Last updated on: 5/10/2021 | Author:

Should Gene-Doping Be Accepted in Sports?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Sam Moxon, PhD, research fellow in the Division of Cell Matrix Biology & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Manchester, in a Mar. 23, 2021 article, “Gene Doping: The Next ‘Big Issue’ in World Athletics,” available at, stated:

“Let’s talk about the most powerful tool in the potential cheater’s toolbox. CRISPR-Cas9 is one of the most flexible and inexpensive forms of gene editing that has opened the door to scientists, and even lay people, to the ability to manipulate gene sequences. It stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and it gives researchers the ability to tweak the DNA sequences of genes and alter their functions.

The process involves generating a ‘new’ genetic sequence and attaching it to a protein called Cas9 which scans DNA strands within the individual’s cells until it locates the target sequence. Typically, the Cas9 protein will then cut the DNA at the target gene and introduce the new sequence (a sequence to repair a faulty gene for example)…

The frequently stated goal of CRISPR is to use the technology to snip genes to correct genetic disorders, treat diseases and improve crops, among its most cited uses…

Gene doping (boosting athletic performance using banned substances or methods) has been a constant issue in athletics and other sports for decades. After fits and starts over many decades, a relatively rigorous system of checks and balances is in place to detect when an athlete is taking performance enhancing drugs. There is an array of tests that can be run on blood and urine to ensure an athlete is performing ‘clean.’

But current tests are designed to detect foreign substances and chemicals in an athlete’s bloodstream or urine. DNA is far from a foreign substance and is harder to probe for evidence of tampering. For example, unlike classic doping drugs such as steroids, bioengineered substances are chemically identical to the body’s natural hormones, making detection difficult at best. Gene editing adds additional layers of concerns. Doping using something like CRISPR guarantees that tests will be unable to detect when an athlete has attempted to give themselves a genetic advantage.”

Mar. 23, 2021

Nick Busca, freelance sport journalist and high-performance triathlon coach, in an Apr. 29, 2019 article, “Should Athletes Be Allowed to Enhance Their Genes?,” available at, stated:

“Scientists first developed gene therapy techniques in the 1990s, exploring ways to treat disease by modifying malfunctioning cells. In 1997, a team at John Hopkins University edited genes to create what the media called ‘Schwarzenegger mice,’ which had twice the normal amount of muscle.

The researchers’ goal was to develop treatments for muscle-wasting conditions, including old age, but the same technique could theoretically be used to add muscle bulk to athletes, a concept called gene doping. Doctors could, theoretically, inject cells with enhanced genes into the relevant body part or use a benign virus to deliver modified cells. These superhumans could be the elite athletes of the future — athletes who perform faster, higher, and stronger than any ‘natural’ human ever could.

There’s no evidence that anyone has tried this procedure — which has never been tested — but in 2003, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) proactively banned gene doping. The ban includes any use of polymers of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) or analogues, gene-editing agents designed to alter genome sequences or gene expressions, and normal or genetically modified cells. Like other drugs and methodologies banned by WADA, these techniques are prohibited because they have the potential to enhance performance, could represent a potential health risk to the athlete from an unproven technology, and violate the ‘spirit of sport.'”

Apr. 29, 2019

PRO (yes)


Alex Pearlman, journalist and bioethicist, in a Mar. 11, 2021 article, “The Case for More Doping in the Olympics,” available at, stated:

“[W]ith this year-long pause [due to the COVID-19 pandemic] to ponder the games, it’s worth considering this provocation: Perhaps the one thing that could breathe new life into these ancient games and make them feel more relevant is the exact opposite of what amateur sports are supposed to be free of: technological, chemical, and biological enhancers of performance…

With the potential cancellation of the Olympics barely making headlines, and with viewership already in significant decline, would allowing enhancement make the Olympics more relevant? Would opening the competition to anyone wearing a springy exoskeleton suit to propel them down the track 50 percent faster than human legs alone actually make the games even more compelling? What about altering their genetics to enhance a freakish amount of red blood cells to ferry more oxygen to their muscles? And importantly, would changes to the games still be able to capture what it is that we appreciate about competitive sports in the first place?

What is purity of sport, anyway?

…Allowing science into the picture raises the bar that already exists. To allow genetic and cybernetic enhancement would be to elevate our experience of the art of expressing what the human body is capable of when it merges with the technological prowess at our fingertips, and it also allows sports to evolve to mirror the human experience. If our lives are augmented, perhaps our sports entertainment should be as well.”

Mar. 11, 2021


Michael Le Page, reporter for New Scientist, in an Aug. 5, 2016 article, “Gene Doping in Sport Could Make the Olympics Fairer and Safer,” available at, stated:

“There is good reason to think the existing test regime fails to detect the vast majority of athletes who engage in conventional doping. An anonymous survey done in 2011 suggests more than a third of athletes engage in doping, while tests catch less than 2 per cent. The detection rate for gene doping and epigenome doping will be even more dismal.

So what should we do? As I have already said of conventional doping, there is only one sensible option: accept that there is no way to stop gene doping in the long run, and reverse the 2003 ban on it before illicit and potentially dangerous forms of it become common…

We have traditionally recognised the unfairness of one genetic difference: people with a Y chromosome mostly compete separately from those who don’t. Some sports also divide into weight divisions. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: more than 200 gene variants have been linked to outstanding sporting performance so far, and the number will only grow. The classic example is the cross-country skier Eero Mäntyranta, who had a mutation in the EPO gene that increased his level of red blood cells.

Other athletes can only compete against such an advantage if they boost their red blood cell count by sleeping in expensive altitude tents or, of course, resort to EPO gene doping. Ethicist Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford argues that it would be fairer to set a maximum permissible red cell count based on safety and let athletes boost their red cell count by any safe means – including by injecting the hormone EPO.

Of course, some forms of gene doping could give athletes superhuman abilities, but enhancements that take athletes well beyond the normal will be very obvious. And the answer here is a separate category rather than an outright ban.”

Aug. 5, 2016


John Horgan, science journalist, in a July 26, 2016 article, “Could Olympians Be Tweaking Their Genes?.” available at, stated:

“Naturally, athletes—after reading media reports about “Schwarzenegger mice”–became interested in gene therapies too. Ever since his work was first publicized, jocks have begged [H. Lee] Sweeney, in vain, to test gene therapy on them. He worries that athletes will eventually find someone to dope their genes, just as they found suppliers for steroids and other illegal performance-enhancers.

In principle, gene therapy can be aimed at specific targets, such as fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle cells, to benefit specific athletes, such as a shot-putter, weight-lifter, sprinter or high-jumper…

There may be a few wannabe Olympians who risk their careers, health and lives by getting a rogue scientist to tweak their genes. But I doubt that genetic engineering will have a significant impact on the Olympics anytime soon.

If gene doping can be done safely, that should be cause for celebration, because it would mean gene therapy is finally beginning to fulfill its enormous potential. And as my Scientific American colleague Steve Mirsky has pointed out, world-class athletes already possess advantages, including genetic mutations, that boost their performance. Maybe gene doping is just a way to level the playing field.”

July 26, 2016

CON (no)


Walter G. Johnson, PhD, JD, Diana M. Bowman, PhD, LLB, and Lucille M. Tournas, all of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and Andrew Maynard, PhD, School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, in a Dec. 10, 2019 article, “We Are Not Ready to Deal With Gene-Edited Athletes,” available at, stated:

“[T]he hype and allure of embryonic gene editing is likely to create serious political and economic temptations for countries and/or parents to start ‘genome doping.’ Countries often see performance at the Olympics as a proxy for power and influence in the international community, and as a result, those seeking to increase or maintain their political and economic status could well be driven to develop covert genome-doping programs. The same holds true for parents, even if it’s on a smaller scale, at least to start with—having a world-class athlete as a child brings fame, perhaps financial stability (depending on the sport), and pride. It will be unfathomably expensive initially, but there are very wealthy people who want to see their children succeed in competitive sports. And for decades, international sporting events have been a place where athletes and their countries and coaches have used cutting-edge science and technology in search of getting ahead of the pack. Almost 70 years ago, for instance, Soviet weightlifters and wrestlers using new testosterone supplements were able to take home eight Olympic gold medals…

With no clear legal or ethical pathways forward, society is ill-prepared for the very real possibility of genome doping in athletes. As a first step, anti-doping agencies like WADA should be convening expert groups to design rules that work across cultures and incorporate the best available science on gene editing and its potential impacts. Beyond this though, bodies such as the World Health Organization and UNESCO need to develop a set of norms and expectations of embryonic gene editing, including reference to athletics. Without this deliberative debate and norm setting, we collectively run the risk of turning a blind eye to the use of a technology that, if not implemented responsibly, could lead to a legacy of destroyed lives.”

Dec. 10, 2019


Torah Kachur, PhD, lecturer at the University of Alberta and science journalist, in a Feb. 15, 2018 article, “Enhancing Athletic Performance on a Genetic Level,” available at, stated:

“If CRISPR/Cas9 genome modification is ever found to be doable and safe in humans there is almost no way to ever catch a cheat. You’d have to get a sample of their DNA before they even become competitive athletes, when they are kids, to have some reference sample so you can tell if any changes have been made in adulthood.

I’m presuming no one would irreversibly change the genetics of a child before they even show athletic potential and I hope that is safe to assume.

The thing is that doping technology has always stayed one step ahead of detection, but it has only stayed one step ahead. So if CRISPR/Cas9 modification of the genome in humans becomes possible and is done by athletes, we can only hope the minds at WADA are just years or even months away from catching the cheaters. Now with retroactive punishments it’s still possible to catch a cheat even if it takes a while to catch up.”

Feb. 15, 2018


Ewa Brzeziańska, PhD, Daria Domańska, and Anna Jegier, PhD, all of the Medical University of Lodz, in a Dec. 2014 article, “Gene Doping in Sports — Perspectives and Risks,” available at, stated:

“In contrast to gene therapy, which is carried out under strictly controlled conditions, gene doping can be performed without the use of security and protective measures. Vectors for gene transfer produced in uncontrolled laboratory conditions can be contaminated e.g., by chemical and/or biological agents, thereby endangering the health and life of athletes…

An additional problem is still not completed work on the standardization of reliable tests to detect gene doping. The scientific and medical communities should support the activities of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in developing new methods of gene doping detection and updating the lists of banned agents. In addition to educational programmes for athletes, and development of tests for gene doping detection, an individual method of gene doping control should be introduced, in which each athlete would be the self-reference baseline. In the case of such an approach it would be necessary to collect in an individual athlete database the results of his/her tests (biochemical and haematological), and possibly the expression profile of genes that can be potentially used for gene doping, to monitor it over time. UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), WADA and IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) have already introduced a project known as the Athlete Passport to gather individual athlete testing data (WADA 2009–2013). In the future, such a personalized method of doping control may be the main method of combating this complex problem. In summary, to prevent the development of gene doping, international sports organizations should conduct numerous educational campaigns among athletes, pointing to the risks and ethical problems associated with its use.”

Dec. 2014