Last updated on: 12/31/2008 | Author:

Do Athletes Gain an Unfair Advantage by Using Performance Enhancing Drugs?

PRO (yes)


David Fairchild, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, wrote the following information in his article titled “Of Cabbages and Kings: Continuing Conversation on Performance Enhancers in Sport,” from the Proceedings of the International Symposium for Olympic Research in Feb. 1992:

“[T]he use of performance enhancers is cheating because it violates constitutive rules of the activity. Since such use is cheating, it is wrong and we should expect the disqualification of competitors who are caught doping. This conclusion is established through a simple and straightforward argument. Cheating is the deliberate, knowing, and voluntary violation of certain constitutive rules in order to gain a competitive advantage. Since the violation is knowing, the attempt to gain an advantage is illegitimate and unethical, and the advantage sought is thus unfair. The knowing and voluntary use of proscribed substances is an attempt to gain such an unfair advantage. Some specified performance enhancers, anabolic steroids for example, are listed as proscribed substances in certain sports. The deliberate use of steroids is thus an illegitimate attempt to gain an unfair advantage. We conclude that their use is cheating.”

Feb. 1992 - David Fairchild, PhD


Michael J. Beloff, QC, English barrister (British lawyer), wrote the following information in the article titled “Drugs, Laws and Versapaks,” written as chapter four in John O’Leary’s book Drugs and Doping In Sport, published in 2001:

“The objects of doping control are clear. The essence of a sporting contest is that it should be fairly conducted, with the competitor’s success or failure being the result of natural talents: speed, skill, endurance, tactical awareness – honed, it may be, by instruction, training and body maintenance in its widest sense. The much used metaphor – a level playing field – derives from sport. The use of drugs violates all such notions of equality: the drug taker starts with an unfair advantage. Success becomes the product of the test tube, not the training track. The interests of innocent athletes need protection by punishment of the guilty.”

2001 - Michael J. Beloff, QC


Michael Dillingham, MD, retired San Francisco 49ers football team physician, wrote the following information in the Aug. 25, 2004 article titled “Steroids, Sports and the Ethics of Winning,” published by the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University:

“Society cares because steroid use is a form of cheating. Since steroids work so well, they create an unfair advantage for those who take them, and this breaks the social contract athletes have implicitly agreed to: We are going to have a fair contest. There are things we can and cannot do. Even if there were a safe performance-enhancing substance, if it weren’t available to everybody, using it would still be cheating.”

Aug. 25, 2004 - Michael Dillingham, MD


Richard Pound, BCL, former President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, made the following statements during a Jan. 15, 2008 debate on performance enhancing drugs in sports as part of the debate series titled “Intelligence Squared US,” held at the Asia Society and Museum in New York City:

“Remember that athletes don’t take these drugs to level the playing field, they do it to get an advantage. And if everyone else is doing what they’re doing, then instead of taking 10 grams or 10 cc’s or whatever it is, they’ll take 20 or 30 or 40, and a vicious circle simply gets bigger. The end game will be an activity that is increasingly violent, extreme, and meaningless, practiced by a class of chemical and or genetic mutant gladiators. The use of performance-enhancing drugs is not accidental; it is planned and deliberate with the sole objective of getting an unfair advantage.”

Jan. 15, 2008 - Richard Pound, BCL


Eric Walker, retired sports consultant for the Oakland A’s baseball team, stated the following opinion in his Steroids And Baseball website (accessed Dec. 8, 2008):

“If there is an unfairness about PED use, it is that owing to their tabu status, they are not equally available to any who might want them. Those who are willing to risk detection or opprobrium can obtain whatever advantage they may or may not confer in a given sport, while those equally interested but cowed by the regulatory and acceptability climate are denied whatever those gains might or might not be.”

Dec. 8, 2008 - Eric Walker

CON (no)


Bennett Foddy, DPhil, Harold T. Shapiro Postdoctoral Fellowship in Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, and Julian Savulescu, PhD, Professor and Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, made the following statements in the Aug. 1, 2005 article titled “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport,” published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine:

“There is no difference between elevating your blood count by altitude training, by using a hypoxic air machine, or by taking EPO [erythropoietin]. But the last is illegal. Some competitors have high PCVs [packed cell volumes] and an advantage by luck. Some can afford hypoxic air machines. Is this fair? Nature is not fair. Ian Thorpe has enormous feet which give him an advantage that no other swimmer can get, no matter how much they exercise. Some gymnasts are more flexible, and some basketball players are seven feet tall. By allowing everyone to take performance enhancing drugs, we level the playing field. We remove the effects of genetic inequality. Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality.”

Aug. 1, 2005 - Julian Savulescu, PhD Bennett Foddy, DPhil


Norman Fost, MD, MPH, Professor and Director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of Wisconsin, was quoted as having said the following in the article titled “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs’, and Baseball,” published by Eric Walker’s Steroids And Baseball website (accessed Dec. 12, 2008):

“There is no coherent argument to support the view that enhancing performance is unfair; if it were, we would ban coaching and training. Competition can be unfair if there is unequal access to particular enhancements, but equal access can be achieved more predictably by deregulation than by prohibition.”

Dec. 12, 2008 - Norman Fost, MD, MPH


Robert Simon, PhD, Marjorie and Robert W. McEwen Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College, wrote the following statements in his 2004 book Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport:

“Many of us share the intuition that use of performance enhancers provides an unfair advantage, but we need to ask whether this intuition can be supported by good arguments… One line of argument suggests an analogy with differences in the equipment available to competitors. For example, if one player in a golf tournament used golf balls that flew significantly further than balls used by opponents even when struck with the same force, the tournament arguably is unfair. One player is able to avoid one of the major challenges of golf not because of skill but simply because of use of a superior product. Perhaps the use of steroids provides a similar unfair advantage.

The problem with this line of argument, however, is that it is at best unclear that the golf tournament is unfair. If the ball is legal and available to other competitors, the user indeed has an advantage over players using ordinary equipment, but what makes the advantage unfair?…[T]here are all sorts of differences in equipment, background, training facilities, coaching, and diet that can affect the performances of athletes but are not regarded as unfair. Until we can say why the advantages provided by such performance enhancers as steroids are illegitimate, and advantages provided by other differences in background conditions are legitimate, the charge of unfairness must be dismissed as lacking adequate support.”

2004 - Robert Simon, PhD


Sharon Ryan, PhD, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at West Virginia University, wrote the following information in the Aug. 2008 article titled “What’s So Bad About Performance Enhancing Drugs?,” published by Philosophy and Football:

“Due to economic circumstances or even luck, some athletes have better nutrition, ‘natural’ supplements, coaches, trainers, nutritionists, information, lawyers, and equipment than others do. Some athletes have more free time to train than others do. Some athletes are naturally smarter, faster, and stronger than others are. All athletes, whether or not they use PEDs, are not ‘playing on a level playing field’ and that is…unfair.”

Aug. 2008 - Sharon Ryan, PhD