Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Sports, Health 

Anabolic steroids in sports

Anabolic Steroids are banned from sports in all major countries of the world. The main reason is because it creates “an unfair advantage” for the people who use them. Legislators want athletes to compete on equal terms, without artificial aids.

But is sports really fair to begin with? The most determining factors of success are factors the athlete has no control over: what DNA he was lucky enough to be born with, and the environment where he grew up and trained. 

The genes determine his physical potential, but also his mental capacity of determination and character. The environment plays a great part in how much time he can devote to his training, how encouraging his social group is, his parents and teachers, and the availability of healthy food and equipment.


Still we try to give sports the illusion of fairness, as if everyone started at the same position, and the only difference would be the persistence and determination of the athlete. We give it a fake shine of nobility.

When someone becomes a champion, what is it that we actually celebrate? That they were the most deserving winner? Looking at it soberly we can say that someone with the luck of being born with the right DNA and in the right environment could beat all other combinations of DNA and environment. So where does the fairness come into play?

We already acknowledge this difference in traits with different weight classes in many sports, and separate classes for men, women and the disabled. We don’t think it is fair to let men compete against women in wrestling, or a 120 kg boxer to fight a 60 kg boxer. Still, we think it is perfectly fine for a weight lifter with very low testosterone levels to compete against one with high levels, when those levels are the single most important factor for muscularity.

When a man with naturally low testosterone boosts his levels to a higher level we call it doping and unfair. Using the same logic we should put a ban on using glasses or corrective eye surgery. It is the same unfair advantage. To no fault of their own some are born with bad eyes, and some are born with low testosterone levels.

Then there are some who say AAS (Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids) are a health risk, and that using them sends the wrong signal to aspiring children. However, being a top athlete is not a healthy life style to begin with. The athlete pushes his body to extreme levels, in many cases inflicting permanent injury. AAS are used in mainstream medicine to treat many different problems, such as muscle wasting and hormone problems, and it does so with minimal side effects. What AAS adds to the already long list of athlete problems can only be marginal. AAS is certainly not suitable for children, but so are lots of other things in our culture, such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods.

According to the "Drug harms in UK" study of 2010 , AAS is several times less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, both to the user and to society. 

Bodybuilders have used AAS since the 50s, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno (the hulk) and Dorian Yates . It is safe to say that all top bodybuilders in the world use AAS, but only a few admit to it publicly.

The cyclist champion Lance Armstrong did it too, and received a lot of negative publicity from it. But so did most of the cyclists of Tour de France, so what is the problem really? As comedian Bill Burr puts it: "our roided up guy beat your roided up guys".

The documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster takes a close look at performance enhancing drugs in sports, and the massive inconsistencies. A highly recommended watch. 

As I see it, pursuing sports is like any other endeavor. It is just like competing for a job, or going to the moon. You do what it takes to win. Just like life in general, sports is unfair to its core, and your level of success have very little to do with how much you "deserve" it.

Sports is a form of entertainment, where the performances contribute nothing to the advancement of humanity. The world record holder of 100 m sprinting is as important as the most famous porn star.

I think it is time to remove sports from the pedestal of nobility, and adopt a more sober look. Let the athletes do what they want in order to win, and let us spectators see their improvements. To see extraordinary people do extraordinary feats is why we watch sports to begin with.


« ‡ »