When you hear the name Lance Armstrong, what usually comes to mind? Doping. Synonymous with cheating; a choice that can cast a shadow on any athlete. Armstrong’s doping case is probably one of the more famous cases, but there was another cyclist on the American men’s cycling team that has also had his Tour de France medal revoked. His name is Floyd Landis.

Floyd Landis was raised in a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania and began riding his bike when he was a teenager (bio.com). From 2002 to 2004, Landis rode alongside Lance Armstrong with the U.S. Postal team, helping Armstrong win the Tour de France each year. Later, Landis left the U.S. Postal team and joined team Phonak. Landis went on to win the race himself in 2006. This victory was the beginning of a long road for Floyd Landis.

After his 2006 Tour de France victory, Landis’ urine sample was tested for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This test returned positive for a synthetic testosterone banned by International Cycling Union. Landis’ medal was revoked and he was suspended from cycling for two years. Landis initially denied the claims of him taking any testosterone to win the Tour, but he does admit to sleeping in an altitude chamber.

Endurance sports are physically demanding on an athlete. Oxygen is of vital importance to endurance, and red blood cells are the facilitators. Red blood cells (RBCs) are oxygen carrying cells that supply our organs and muscles. In an endurance sport such as cycling, a rider looking to gain an edge in performance may look towards increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of  his/her RBCs. There are a few ways to increase red blood cell count in humans: using a drug called EPO, blood doping, altitude training, and using an altitude chamber. Erythropoietin or EPO is a naturally occurring compound in our bodies that signal our bone marrow to create RBCs. Blood doping is a process that involves removing blood from your system and allowing your RBC count to build up once again. Reinjecting the blood that was removed will increase red blood cell count compared to normal values. Sleeping in an altitude chamber or training at a higher altitude creates an advantage within the human body and creates more RBCs to supply an increased amount of oxygen to working muscles. All four of these methods create RBCs but only EPO and blood doping are considered illegal.

This short video gives you an idea of Floyd Landis’ actual altitude chamber, and a brief introduction to the mistrust rampant in sport.

With all the available methods to athletes to enhance performance where do we draw the ethical line in the sand regarding cheating?

If two forms of increasing RBC count are legal, while the others are not, how can we argue against other forms of performance enhancement? All four methods increase RBC count when compared to normal range, but some are legal and some aren’t. It raises the question, what is cheating? An article from cyclisme-dopage.com, which has been collecting data on PED usage in cycling since 1968, claims that 1 in 3 cyclists are using PEDs or other methods that break anti-doping laws. If over 35% of the athletes in a given sport were using a banned method it is easy to see how the notion of performance enhancement can permeate a sport. Some athletes that aspire to be great will do whatever it takes to be the greatest, this includes the use of PEDs. But at what point do we say one method is cheating and another isn’t?

Cheating has always been viewed as gaining an unfair advantage over your competitors. But if one third of your sport (as in the case of cycling) was using PEDs, would you not consider using them to level the playing field? There are some people with naturally high levels of RBCs. If this person were to compete would it be ethically permissible for other athletes to increase their RBC count artificially then? The ethical issue with PEDs does not lie with the players. I believe the athletes who choose to use PEDs are presented with a logical choice to either take steps to be the best or not achieve their goals. The true issue lies within the stigmatization of performance enhancement.

If we look to Aristotle’ views on perfectionism, we see sport as the quest for human perfection. As Heather Reid proposed, athletic competitions aim at human excellence and virtue. Athletic competition demands the athletes to question themselves as to whether or not they have what it takes to achieve greatness. This question will always bring that athlete to whether they should participate in performance enhancement. As the old adage says; in for a penny, in for a pound. If an athlete is willing to do whatever it takes to be great they will eventually turn to PEDs.

This is a controversial concept because we regard PEDs as a negative aspect of sport. If we carry on in Aristotle and Heather Reid’s tradition we must embrace any new method to attain human excellence. This notion will only be accepted if the current cultural norms make a radical shift. We must allow for the use of PEDs in sport and let the athletes make an autonomous choice whether to participate in some, none or all methods available to them. If the ethical issue with PEDs in sport truly lies within the idea of an unfair advantage, this will no longer be the case. Granted, some will have limited access to the methods available, but couldn’t that be said about the general access to sport in our culture today? This idea may create a different sport culture, a culture that embraces safe and effective performance enhancement.

Further Resources:

Live Debate; If there is a concern about creating a ‘level playing field’, then why not find safe ways to dope everyone?:   http://www.iq2oz.com/debates/it-should-be-ok-for-athletes-to-use-performance-enhancing-drugs/

Coping with Doping by J. Angelo Corlett , Vincent Brown Jr. & Kiersten Kirkland found in the Journal of Philosophy of Sport

Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World by Heather Reid and Mark Holowchak

References:

Biography.com Editors. “Floyd Landis.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web.

Chalabi, Mona. “Is It ‘impossible’ to Win the Tour De France without Doping?” The Guardian.com. Web.
Klopman, Michael. “Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France Titles Stripped: Who Gets Them Now?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web.
Macur, Juliet. “Landis Fails Drug Test After Triumph in Tour De France.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 July 2006. Web.
Savulescu, J. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 38.6 (2004): 666-70. Web.
Lecture information presented by Samantha Brennan for Philosophy 2079F at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.
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