At least 120 athletes at the Rio Olympics were previously suspended for doping, The New York Times reported on Aug. 18. The suspended represented at least 63 of the 205 countries in the 2016 Olympics. When all was swum and run, 31 athletes who had previously been suspended for doping won medals in Rio.
Despite the sanctions and drug tests that have been in place in sports organizations for years, cheating remains widespread. The drive for an extra edge is, after all, the whole point of competitive sports. Realizing that drive runs deep, philosopher Julian Savulescu (on the right in the photo above) has long argued that doping should be legal in sports. Legal training like running in high altitudes, he points out, boosts red blood cells in ways no different than EPO, a commonly used banned substance. Because cheating is here to stay, Savulescu says, and rules are arbitrary, making performance enhancements legal is the best way to guarantee an even playing field.
Last week on Nautilus, Savulescu, who directs the Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, went head to head with Robert Sparrow, a philosophy professor at Monash University in Melbourne, over the moral, personal, and cultural issues stirred up by doping in sports. If performance enhancements are relative, Sparrow asks, should sprinters be allowed to be shot from a cannon? Last week’s presentation of the debate, “Head to Head: Should We Allow a Doping Free-for-All?” was an edited transcript of the philosophers’ parries and ripostes. Here you can watch them face off in unedited glory.
The video interview plays at the top of the screen.
Regan Penaluna is an assistant editor at Nautilus.