The Athlete’s Dilemma

Last week, gold sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell tested positive for “banned substances”. And although no one is accusing Chris Froome, this year’s Tour de France star, his performance at Mont Ventoux did raise some questioning about his potential use of drugs. Professional sport is filled with drug taking. Yet as this interesting article asked, knowing that if you get caught you are probably banned for life, why do athletes carry on doing it? The article explained that by following a branch of mathematics called game theory, one can see that like in the prisoner’s dilemma, both players will be better off if neither takes drugs. Nevertheless, because they don’t trust each other, they both take them to make sure they have a chance to win. Of course, the drug-use could be solved by introducing regular inspections. Yet this has not happened. According to the Economist, the main obstacles for regular inspections and clean races are fans and sponsors. “It is better to test sparingly, and expose from time to time what is apparently the odd bad apple, rather than do the job thoroughly and find the whole barrel is spoiled and your sport has suddenly vanished in a hailstorm of disqualifications”. For us the questions remain: Who decides what is a food supplement and what is a drug? Is there really a justification for banning enhancing-drugs in sports? If health is the answer, don’t the majority of athletes already “destroy” their bodies when they become pros?

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