Doping revisited

Doping is a widely discussed subject in the world of sports. Athletes use drugs because they think that their performance will improve more than by training without taking drugs. They balance the chances of getting caught and the possible consequences with the expected performance gains and therefore the expected improvement of competition results.

Common arguments in contra of doping are fairness and health. It is considered as cheating on your competitors if you take drugs which are listed on black lists of institutions like the world anti-doping agency. Furthermore it is argued that taking these drugs is irresponsible towards your own health and your position as role model for fans, especially those of young age. In some countries the use of substances classified as doping even is subject to criminal law.

To be clear from the beginning: Aprendo does not advocate doping in any way. All athletes with whom we work have signed a contract which requires the strict adherence to the standards of relevant anti-doping authorities. However, the reasoning why we do this is a bit different from the common argument.

In the following we are going to explain our somewhat distinct view on the doping issue, which is based on ethical arguments on the one hand and technical arguments on the other.

The ethical arguments

From an ethical point of view there is nothing inherently bad or immoral per se about an individual person taking substances classified as doping, because everybody has exclusive control over his or her own body and therefore is the exclusive owner of it. Ultimately the owner is the only one to determine his own fate. Everything else would imply that somebody else partially or totally owns you, which is equivalent to slavery. It is ethically impossible to defend slavery. From this perspective involvement of criminal law in this whole matter is not defensible.

However, an athlete participating in the world of sports is not acting completely independent from others, but is engaging into trade. In essence any competition is a trade between two parties: the athletes exchange their demonstration of performance with the money of the audience. To facilitate this exchange other intermediate parties enter this trade too, like event organizers, media companies and sponsors. Every voluntary trade is based on a contract, which clarifies the rules of this exchange. A simple example of this is that if you pay for tickets for a soccer match, the organizer has to make sure that both teams show up and play ninety minutes. A more detailed aspect of this contract could be, that the event organizer ensures the audience that the participants are not doped with certain substances.

The current situation is different though: the matter becomes unnecessarily complicated by the involvement of external agencies like the WADA or other government bodies, which actually are not involved into the contractual relation between the athletes, the audience and the intermediary parties. The tasks of setting the rules of the competition, enforcing this rules as well as the responsibility for the failure to do so are now externalized to institutions, which are neither directly involved in the trade, nor have the right incentives to act as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Doping should not be a sport specific problem, but just a specific instance of contractual conflicts. It is only the involvement of external institutions which takes away the responsibility from the involved parties to setup and to enforce a proper contract. That’s why doping seems to be a problem on its own and tons of money is spent for the “fight against doping” – tax money from people who might not even be remotely interested in sports.

If on the other hand the event organizers would have the responsibility to set and enforce the rules of their competition which they sell to the audience, they would directly bear the risks of image and financial losses if athletes go against these rules. They would have a first hand incentive to prevent this. Furthermore a greater variety of events could exist. In principle any organizer can setup an event with his own rules for which he is responsible to enforce them, as long as these rules respect the life and property of others. The events which fulfill the wishes of the audience most would be most successful, while others would disappear or play a marginal role.

Although the current state of affairs is not based on simple contractual relations, we still consider the voluntary involvement into elite sports to be an agreement with the current rules and therefore reflect this agreement explicitly in the contracts with our athletes.

The technical arguments

There is an ongoing discussion on what doping actually is. Experts on this field basically are divided into two directions of thought. Some experts state that doping consists of a definable range of substances and methods which are then listed by government institutions such as international or national anti-doping agencies. Other experts reason that there is no clear distinction between doping and non-doping, because there are lots substances and methods which are not prohibited which have similar effects on the brain and body of athletes compared to substances which are prohibited. We reason that whatever opinion you may have on what’s doping or not is irrelevant to deal with doping in sports. Sports is always based on an arbitrary set of rules upon which the involved parties agree. The important thing is to actually let the involved parties come to such a contractual agreement and to let the audience decide if they like it or not by the vote of their money.

An athlete taking prohibited substances must have high expectations in their effectiveness of improving his or her performance to outweigh the risks of getting caught. We think that many athletes take doping to sustain inefficient training programs, i.e. they train way too much and/or too intense in relation to their actual race results. The doping helps them to recover faster and achieve better training results, but not necessarily better race results. By making the training more efficient, the same results could possibly be achieved without the need of taking drugs. There is potential for optimization in every athletes’ training programming, life management, nutrition, use of new technologies and more.


Doping is considered to be an insolvable problem in the world of sports. We believe that this problem is approached with the wrong understanding. There will always be people who disrespect contracts. Nevertheless the rules of these contracts and the enforcement of these rules should be managed by the contractual parties and not by any other external government agencies who are not involved in the trade. From a technical point of view Aprendo believes that athletes and coaches should not look for ways to train more and harder, since this will only increase the temptation of taking prohibited measures. Instead athletes should look for ways to enhance their performance by being smarter and more efficient in training.

Ruben Jongkind & Florian Kugler, February 3rd, 2011


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