By Odera Umeugoji

Anabolic steroids (PEDs commonly used illegally in explosive sports like American football)

Anabolic steroids (PEDs commonly used illegally in explosive sports like American football)

As sport becomes increasingly competitive, unscrupulous athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the hope of improving their performances to the point where they can compete for victory at the highest level. Recent developments in science and technology have meant that fewer of these unethical sportspeople are able to escape the consequences of illegally using steroids. Yet, it unfortunately remains the truth that individuals will continue to dope and avoid drug detection as long as sport is in existence. The entire anti-doping movement can therefore be deemed an ongoing chase – a chase which can be explained by psychology and human nature.

Firstly, it must be stated that it is the selfish nature of humans that causes several athletes to consider doping. Centuries ago, the philosopher Glaucon, declared that people’s good behaviour only exists out of self-interest. In the context of doping, this suggests that athletes only cease from taking PEDs because they fear the possible consequences (e.g. suspension). This is true in practice: in 1995, a survey of top-level American athletes showed that 195 out of 198 athletes would take PEDs provided they would win and not be caught. The statistic elucidates that a large proportion of athletes are not mindful of their competitors, and would readily cheat for the sake of victory, if regulations were not in place. Hence, doping can be described as human nature, as more people would partake in it if not for the large deterrent; which could be suspension or even banishment from the sport.

Moreover, sportspeople take drugs due to the doping dilemma. In this scenario, athletes’ dope if and when their opponents do, in order to compete on what is believed to be a level playing field. This can be attributed to people’s inherent self-interest, as morality is seen to take a backseat when one’s success is at risk. The aforementioned dilemma causes immoral athletes to offend repeatedly, because they are able to justify to themselves their decision, due to the idea of a level of playing field. As athletes continue to pressurise each other into doping, this has a continuous effect– the doping keeps circulating. This is one way in which psychology is responsible for the consumption of steroids.

All of the psychological reasons for using PEDs can be compounded by the ‘what-the-hell effect’. This phrase refers to the psychological behaviour where once a forbidden boundary (e.g. taking steroids) is crossed, it becomes easier to repeatedly cross that boundary, because the significance of the boundary reduces. The same is true when doping is concerned – an athlete who has doped once is likely to dope again simply because they have done so before, so the act of doping is no longer a significant wrongdoing from their perspective. Thus, it is clear that this psychological effect is able to worsen other reasons for using PEDs by causing repetition.

The reasons why humans dope can be attributed back to human nature and psychology, but human nature is also responsible for the anti-doping movement being a chase and not a battle.

Generally, humans are reactive rather than proactive. This is because humans naturally attempt to use as little energy as possible, which usually involves reacting to stimuli rather than eliminating problems before they occur. This behavioural trait is evident in the anti-doping movement, as the drug tests are always in the shadow of the methods used to avoid drug detection and new drugs. For example, the PED, meldonium, had been used for years before the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned its use in sport in 2016.

Although difficult, WADA should endeavour to discover drug detection evasion methods before they occur, as well as new drugs before they are utilised. Then, maybe, it would be possible to tackle doping head-on, instead of continually chasing it.