Doping has become a far too common topic every time a major sporting event comes up. In fact, it’s become so much a part of sports that almost every incredible performance is accompanied by some doubt about doping. There will always be those who cheat, and always be those who advocate for an ‘anything goes’ philosophy.
So with Rio just days away, and the stunning state-sponsored Russian doping system still echoing through the news, it’s probably important to address WHY doping issues matter.
1. It’s a horrible life lesson
Anybody involved in sports knows of the wonderful life lessons it teaches. At the very least, it teaches the following:
- discipline and perseverance help you improve
- greater effort leads to greater success
- commitment to a difficult goal can be reached through the long process of effort, attention and milestones
- ultimately, while we compete against others, we are really competing with ourselves
These life lessons stick with us long after we hang up our goggles. Our swimming experiences essentially give us a template for how we can deal with the rest of our lives.
However, doping bypasses that. It gives the cheater an advantage over clean athletes by making training more effective. The faulty life lesson here is that life has shortcuts, and you should use those rather than putting in the work.
2. It’s cheating
I hate to say it, but this is probably the weakest argument. Cheating has always been too much a part of our lives. We speed, cheat on our taxes, copy on tests, lie on resumes. We all know that’s wrong but we’re not at all surprised when we hear of it.
However, cheating in sports is often celebrated. Faked injuries in soccer are so common it’s ridiculous, while players in most team sports try to get calls through some kind of acting. It’s actually hard to find many sports where cheating is actively and vigorously discouraged. Golf may be the most celebrated one, where golfers with honour have called penalty strokes on themselves even though nobody else noticed.
But the problem with cheating is that it sends the wrong message. Cheating is a character flaw. Sports, like most of life, have rules, and those rules are there to make things as fair as possible. Cheating does the opposite. It tries to ensure that one person has an unfair advantage over others. It says you don’t have to work harder to achieve success, you just have to cheat.
3. It impacts on the results for others
In my last post I touched on the significant impact of East German doping on swimming at the 1976 Olympics (see here). It affected Canada’s image of itself, robbed Shirley Babashoff of her deserved glory, and even how prevented Puerto Rico from a deserved opportunity to invigorate their swimming community when a doped East German knocked Carlos Berrocal out of the bronze medal position. And that’s just some of the impact that doping had on just one sport at one Olympics.
In other words, doping tends to push clean athletes down the ladder.
4. It makes for poor role models
Probably the biggest concern for me has to do with role models. Everyone who is passionate about an activity (whether sports, music, drama, etc. ) probably has role models they want to emulate. And when those role models feel that it’s acceptable or even necessary to cheat, that has a huge ripple effect down the chain. It tells the millions of people who idolize that person that cheating is ok. And that is NOT a message that our young athletes should be hearing or heeding.
In summary, doping isn’t just about trying to win a medal, or make a final. It’s about deciding that rules are for others, and cheating is acceptable. The sports world may tolerate that, but the big world out there won’t be nearly as accommodating.
Now, imagine how the youth of Russia feel about cheating. Their own government has organized an elaborate system where they cheat in order to appear more successful. What kind of future will that country have when that is considerable an acceptable way of life.