Point/Counterpoint: Keep Sports Clean

These point/counterpoint essays are part of a live public policy debate series in New York City called Intelligence Squared U.S., which is an initiative of The Rosenkranz Foundation.

For more information and to listen to past debates, go to www.iq2US.org

There are two approaches to the question being debated.

The first is whether, in a system in which there are no rules, one way or the other, those responsible for sport should allow athletes to do or use whatever they want in the pursuit of higher performance.

The second is whether, in a system that has decided that certain drugs and methods should not be used, athletes should nevertheless be entitled to ignore the rules.

No Rules Exist

The argument in favour of the first approach is based on the premise that all participants are fully informed as to the risks inherent in the sport, whether from injury or general health considerations, have the right to their own appreciation of those risks and are responsible for the outcomes of their conduct. No one, therefore, has a moral or other right to curb their personal efforts to maximize performance.

There are, however, sport rules that deal with other risks. Equipment is either required or regulated to avoid or minimize injury. Helmets, padding, limitations on certain types of contact, age, gender and weight categories are examples of rules adopted to protect the participants. No one challenges the legitimacy of such rules. No justifiable argument can be advanced for refusing to limit the known and serious risks resulting from the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Sport Rules Exist to Prohibit Drug Use

The second approach conforms to the system that has developed over the past half century as sport has become more widely practiced and specialized.

Richard Pound is former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a partner in the Canadian law firm Stikeman Elliott. He has been named to Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for his efforts to rid sport of performance-enhancing drugs. Pound was a finalist in swimming at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, is a 30-year member of the International Olympic Committee and a former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. He is currently the chancellor of McGill University in Montreal.

Responsible sport leaders became concerned about the obvious health risks associated with performance-enhancing drug use. The IOC responded to the death of a cyclist during the 1960 Olympics and began drug-testing at the 1968 Olympic Games.

These early rules have now evolved into the World Anti-Doping Code, which applies to all athletes, all sports and all countries, with the exception of some professional leagues, notably (but not exclusively) those in the United States.

Every sport is fundamentally a collection of rules, agreed upon by the participants. Some rules may be artificial, such as the dimensions of the field, the scoring, the number of players, the type of permitted equipment, and so forth. What the rules may be and how they may have developed is not as important as the fact that they are the rules that define the sport.

Unlike society in general, where you must obey the law of the land, in sport, you are free to opt in or to opt out at any time. But if you opt in, you opt in to the applicable rules -- all of them. If a rule is no good, or outdated, it can be changed through the regulatory process governing the sport.

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