It’s only my opinion, but there is no such thing as a fair, or level playing field – not when you really get down to it. In the recent wake of the media mayhem surrounding Lance and the Tour, I sat around this weekend and gave it some thought, and in the realm of sports, amateur, professional or otherwise I couldn’t come up with any ironclad examples of truly pure, fair competition. Someone will always have an advantage of some kind, be that access to better training/coaching, better diet, better equipment, or enjoy better physical health and so on. Even something like home field advantage tips the scales of competition. Other factors like temperature, or altitude also factor in. If a team does its training session at sea level and then goes to play in Colorado, the mile high city, clearly they will be at a disadvantage to the team that plays and practices regularly in the thin air.

My point is, that short of cloning two identical teams and having them play in a kind of universal vacuum where every factor can be controlled and equalized, the concept of a level playing field just isn’t a reality. It’s a really nice thought, but that’s about it.

The field will always tip in one direction more than the other – there is no way around it. But still we widely consider factors like training, equipment and home field advantage as well within the realm of fair play; it’s all part of the game, and part of the competition. One team can have the best coaches, trainers, and dieticians in the world, access to the best training facilities and the best equipment money can buy, while another team might not have access to any of that but yet we somehow consider that fair play. We don’t draw the line at any of this stuff. We’ll happily watch an underfunded, under-resourced team get pummeled by another better equipped team, whether that’s in pro, college, or amateur sports. The Olympics come to mind BIG TIME for me here. Being Canadian though, I might be a little jilted on the matter to begin with.

We accept all these other advantages (and there really are too many to mention) as fair, but we pretty much unanimously draw the line at performance enhancing drugs.

I understand that in the simplest of terms, if a substance is banned, and an athlete chooses to use it anyway, this is cheating. I also get the health hazard aspect of things. For all intents and purposes steroids and other performance enhancing drugs can be horrendously bad for you. For this reason alone I support keeping a list of banned/dangerous substances in sports – it makes sense. But, to ban this stuff purely on the moral basis of fairness alone is right out-to-lunch because when considering fair play alone, how is using a performance enhancing drug really that different from water jugs on the player’s bench filled with Gatorade? Or is it really that different from outfitting a team with better equipment, or ensuring that the players are taking their vitamins and engineered dietary protein supplements? I say it’s not that different at all, when what you’re talking about is “fairness”. The only thing that makes taking performance enhancing drugs unfair, is that they have been banned from use in competition.

Think about how much we admire the player who spends that extra hour on the court after practice shooting free throws, or the team that studies film footage of their opponents prior to the BIG game. We don’t admonish the desire to win at all costs, or the drive to out perform the competition. We admire the athlete that goes the extra mile to find a competitive edge, that advantage that will tip the playing field in their favour, but as it is, if it’s chemically induced, we’ve determined it foul play. But, I don’t feel we should confuse this with thinking that sports are somehow made more fair by banning these drugs. As long as there is no way to 100% test and there is a chance athletes can get away with it, in many ways banning substances really only ensures that some athletes might be able to get away with cheating – and that’s really unfair.

In fact, the only way to make a sport more fair through drug regulations might be to legalize it all. Then everyone has the same access and opportunity and it’s left to their discretion.

For me though, it’s more a health issue problem, or at least this makes the most sense to me when reasoning for the banning of performance enhancing drugs. If I were a burgeoning cycling talent with hopes and dreams of making a world class team, (in my dreams) I would want to know that I didn’t need to poison my body with potentially dangerous drugs to be competitive. I get that and to me, therein is the sound reasoning for banning this stuff from competition. We should want our athletes to be able to compete cleanly, and sustain successful, healthy careers. In my opinion this is what the criticisms should really be about, but the contemptuous banter recently rekindled, over cycling anyway, pretends to be nestled firmly in the hollowed halls of fair play. But let me point out again, there really is no such thing. It’s a nice thought, but that’s about it.

Agree? Disagree? Weigh in!

To see what the World Anti-Doping Agency has to say on the issue you can link to a short promo vid here

Also just because I found it cool to look, you can download the most current list of banned substances here