Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Sport, Health and Drugs: A Critical Re-Examination of Some Key Issues and Problems

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Sport, Health and Drugs: A Critical Re-Examination of Some Key Issues and Problems

Article excerpt

Key words

drugs; health; sport; World Anti-Doping Agency

Abstract

One of the major justifications for the ban on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport has been that relating to the protection of the health of athletes. This paper subjects this argument to critical analysis by putting it in the context of the broader relationship between sport and health. More particularly, the paper seeks to unravel some of the complexities of this relationship by an examination of: (i) some aspects of sports sponsorship, particularly with alcohol and tobacco companies; (ii) the health risks associated with elite level sport; and (iii) the widespread and legal use within the sporting context of drugs that can have dangerous side effects. The paper concludes with an examination of some aspects of anti-doping policies within sport and it is suggested that a more imaginative approach to athlete education is needed to prevent the misuse of drugs.

INTRODUCTION

As other authors1,2 have noted, one of the major justifications for the ban on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport is that relating to the protection of the health of athletes. This is, for example, one of the key arguments against doping that was cited in the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code.3 More recently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) suggests that one reason for the ban on the use of certain drugs is that they represent "an actual or potential health risk to the athlete".4 The argument that performance-enhancing drugs are damaging to the health of athletes has regularly been used by the Sports Council in Britain,5 while the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has recently reiterated this argument in its claim that the use of prohibited substances or methods is "potentially harmful to the health of athletes".6

This argument - that doping may damage the health of athletes - has, since the introduction of anti-doping regulations in the 1960s, been consistently cited as one of the most compelling reasons for the ban on the use of performanceenhancing drugs. But how persuasive is such an argument? Do the anti-doping regulations in sport really serve to protect the health of athletes? And is the publicly expressed concern of governing bodies of sport for the health of athletes expressed in other aspects of their policies? The central object of this paper is to subject this argument to critical analysis by locating it in the wider context of the relationship between sport and health. More particularly, we will seek to unravel some of the complexities of this relationship by an examination of: (i) some aspects of sports sponsorship; (ii) the health risks associated with elite level sport; and (iii) the widespread and legal use within the sporting context of drugs that can have dangerous side effects. We conclude the paper with an examination of some aspects of anti-doping policies within sport.

DOPING AS A DANGER TO HEALTH: THE SPORT-HEALTH IDEOLOGY

At the outset we might note that, insofar as the ban on performance-enhancing drugs is based on an expressed desire to prevent athletes from damaging their own health, then it reflects a paternalistic approach to protecting the welfare of athletes. Writing from a legal perspective, O'Leary7 has argued that in terms of traditional jurisprudence, such an approach "is only valid if the effect of the prohibition is to protect those unable to make an informed and rational judgement for themselves or to prevent harm to others". An obvious example of the former would be a ban on the taking of performance-enhancing drugs by children and junior athletes, but O'Leary adds that "the extension of the ban beyond this point is more difficult to justify".

If the concern for health constitutes one of the principal objections to the use of drugs in sport, then we might reasonably expect a similar concern for health to inform other aspects of the organization of sport. …

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