Why don't we legalise doping?

Tales From The Water Cooler: Athletes are prone to do whatever it takes to win, and who can blame them?

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Whenever a sport is hit by a doping scandal, be it athletics, cycling or large people from the former Soviet republics throwing heavy things a long way, I find myself asking the same question: why do we ban substances in the first place? It would be wonderful if everyone could compete on the proverbial level playing field, but didn't we leave that dream behind as soon as athletes started wearing running shoes, swapped their flappy shorts for spandex onesies, and started thinking about their diets?

If we altered our ethical perspective – and the rules – Ben Johnson would have won a historic gold, and Lance Armstrong would still be an untainted seven-time Tour winner.

Athletes are prone to do whatever it takes to win, and who can blame them? As the recent, brilliant BBC4 documentary The Race That Shocked The World suggested, almost everyone was at it on the track in 1988, just as so many were on the Tour in Armstrong's day. They just happened to be the unlucky generation that got caught (though Armstrong himself still denies ever having doped).

Some years ago, I interviewed Dr Don Catlin, anti-doping pioneer and former director of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at UCLA. He said there were serious people arguing for legalisation, but warned of the medical complications that would result among sportspeople who decided to dope – which would, most likely, be all of them.

Just as there's an argument for decriminalising drugs, surely there's an argument for legalising performance-enhancing substances. Imagine: we'd never have to wonder whether our heroes were doping, because it wouldn't be cheating if they were. It would remove all the nagging suspicions that come with a new world record – and there'd be plenty more of those.

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