Monday, December 17, 2007

Doping: to regulate or not to regulate?

Doping is once more in the news, this time baseball is thrown into disrepute. And once more, discussions whether it is worth regulating doping sprout everywhere. Also here.

The goal of doping is to gain an advantage through means that are deemed unnatural. Thus high altitude training is legitimate, ingesting a stimulant is not, optimizing in a wind tunnel is legitimate, taking a coffee is not. Obviously, drawing the line between what is tolerated and not is not obvious, and the Olympic movement has set a certain standard for its sports that may not apply in others.

For example: Olympics are to determine who the best athletes are. The roots are in amateurism, whereby athletes are to compete for the love of their sport and set examples to others, encouraging them to engage in physical activity. I would like to argue that baseball, like some other US sports, has a entertainment as the main purpose. Witness for example that the field is purposely rigged to provide for a more level field, and thus entertainment, through such means as entry drafts, salary caps, and other behavior typical of a cartel.

Does doping thus provide for a better entertainment? If yes, and if entertainment is the main goal of that sport, and if players factor in the detrimental effect of doping on their health, then doping should be A-OK. But can players truly internalize the health effect of doping in an environment where there are limits to competition (in the economic sense)? In most US professional sports, there are limitations to how much players are paid, how and when they can move to a different team. This reeks like rent grabbing by team owners and/or sports leagues. It is highly unlikely players face a fair game in terms of doping, and not just doping.

In "amateur" sports, or call them Olympic sports, there are generally much fewer limitations on what sportsmen can and cannot do, except for doping. Of course, there are exceptions. But sportsmen should have the liberty of weighing pro and con of doping, much like they do when determining a training regimen, which team to join, or whether to go competitive or not.

So, my take at doping is: it should be allowed in most sports, except in the cartellized ones, like the professional sports in the US. But the true issue should be: why keep these cartels?


Independent Accountant said...

I fail to see any public interest here. Uncle Sam regulates too much. If say major league baseball (MLB) wants to regulate steroid use, that's MLB's business. It's a contract issue to me.

Economic Logician said...

To independent account: We agree. MLB should not have the Congress mandated right to form a cartel. This puts players at a disadvantage and potentially in a situation where there are compelled to dope more than what they would without a cartel, i. e., in a purely competitive environment.