Doping has been a center of controversy for the past twenty years in sports. Athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs to excel past their colleagues aren’t only gaining an unfair advantage over those who wish to not harm their bodies, but they’re also sending out bad messages to the youth who idolize them. And then there is the problem with how bad steroids are for the body — the rapid decline they can inflict after years of abuse.
With efforts from sports leagues and institutions around the world and organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), curbing the use of performance-enhancing drugs seems to be heading in the right direction. But what if the future of doping in sports — as there surely will be one — becomes more about the ethics behind doping rather than the negative effects it has on one’s body?
This could quickly become reality with gene doping — essentially altering the genetic makeup to physically enhance the muscles. What is it about gene doping that might alter how authorities perceive drug use in sports? It may actually be beneficial for athletes (and non-athletes for that matter) in that it could grant years of muscle-pain-free life before the aches and pains of aging set in.
Professor Lee Sweeney from the University of Pennsylvania has been studying gene doping for nearly twenty years; he is one of WADA’s leading experts on the matter and recently discussed with BBC the future of doping in sports and how he believes it may unfold:
From my own work with the mice, I also know that earlier you intervene, the better off you’re going to be when you get old. So once you go down that path, I think it’s unethical to withhold from someone something that would actually allow their muscles to be much healthier now and to the future. As long as there’s no safety risk, I don’t see why athletes should be punished because they’re athletes. So I’m on the other side of the fence from WADA on this one, even though we’re on the same team right now.
While currently there is no such guarantee of gene therapy becoming a safe practice, as it is only used rarely now for patients suffering from various neuromuscular diseases, it does not stretch the imagination to anticipate the development of a safe, and more importantly, beneficial gene therapy for neuromusculature. At which point everyone who gives a lick about sports will have to weigh whether or not the use of gene doping would be deemed unfair for athletes, especially when the world around them are enjoying the benefits of modern science.