Steroids in the Spotlight: The Legal and Ethical Debate Surrounding Enhanced Games

In the bustling gyms of Miami, where fitness buffs gather, talk about boosting performance isn't hushed up—it's out in the open.

by Faruk Imamovic
Steroids in the Spotlight: The Legal and Ethical Debate Surrounding Enhanced Games
© Getty Images/Tim Boyle

In the bustling gyms of Miami, where fitness buffs gather, talk about boosting performance isn't hushed up—it's out in the open. Aron D'Souza, a guy who knows his way around both law books and investment strategies, found himself in the middle of one of these chats.

He listened as people freely talked about using steroids, like trenbolone, to up their game. This got him thinking in a bold, new direction: what if there was a sports event that didn't just turn a blind eye to performance enhancers but actually welcomed them, with doctors keeping an eye on things? And just like that, the idea for the Enhanced Games was born—a competition that breaks the mold by saying yes to performance-enhancing drugs.

Steroids, classified as Schedule 3 drugs in the United States, occupy a controversial space within athletics and bodybuilding communities. Despite their illegal status without prescription, estimates suggest that between 3 to 4 million Americans have used anabolic-androgenic steroids primarily for athletic or cosmetic purposes.

D'Souza's proposal aims to bring this hidden aspect of sports into the limelight, challenging the existing norms and regulations surrounding drug use in sports.

A Bold Vision Amidst Legal and Ethical Quandaries

D'Souza, leveraging the term "enhanced" commonly used in social media circles to describe individuals on performance-enhancing drugs, introduced the Enhanced Games as the first international sporting event without drug testing.

This initiative, however, is not without its complications. The very essence of the Enhanced Games brings to the forefront legal concerns over the use of banned substances and ethical debates regarding the integrity and fairness of sports.

The idea of clinical supervision for athletes using these drugs aims to address health concerns but does not mitigate the broader controversies.

Performance-Enhancing Supplements Make For Big Business© Getty Images/Tim Boyle

Financially, the Enhanced Games propose a radically different model from traditional Olympic structures.

Athletes participating in D'Souza's event would receive a base salary in addition to competing for a substantial prize pool, starkly contrasting the situation of many Olympic athletes who often do not receive direct compensation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

This disparity in athlete compensation, highlighted by D'Souza's critique of the IOC and its leadership, underscores a central tenet of his argument: the moral superiority of providing fair financial rewards to athletes.

Controversy and Support: A Diverse Backdrop

The announcement of the Enhanced Games has elicited varied responses, from outright dismissal by the IOC to enthusiastic support from notable venture capitalists.

The project's financial backing includes contributions from figures such as Christian Angermayer, Balaji Srinivasan, and Peter Thiel, indicating a significant interest in exploring the boundaries of human physical capabilities and the commercial viability of such an endeavor.

Critics, however, raise potent concerns regarding health risks associated with steroid use, the potential for creating a culture of doping, and the legal implications of hosting an event centered around drug enhancements in jurisdictions where these substances remain illegal.

The opposition from established anti-doping organizations emphasizes the risks to athlete health and the negative impact on young athletes' perceptions of performance enhancement. Despite these challenges, D'Souza remains undeterred, framing the Enhanced Games as a platform for debate on bodily autonomy and the ethical dimensions of drug use in sports.

His stance on allowing athletes to make informed decisions about their bodies under clinical supervision contrasts sharply with broader societal and regulatory norms.

Ethical Considerations and Societal Impact

The introduction of the Enhanced Games raises significant ethical questions about the nature of competition, the definition of fairness, and the role of drugs in achieving human potential.

At the heart of these debates is the question of whether allowing performance-enhancing drugs under controlled conditions levels the playing field or further exacerbates existing inequalities. Proponents argue that such an event could democratize access to performance enhancements, potentially offering a safer environment for athletes to push the boundaries of human capabilities.

Critics, however, warn that this could lead to a slippery slope, where the pressure to use drugs to remain competitive could harm athletes' physical and psychological well-being. Moreover, the Enhanced Games challenge societal norms around drug use and sportsmanship.

The traditional view of athletic competition emphasizes natural talent and hard work; introducing performance-enhancing drugs into the equation complicates this narrative. It raises questions about the future of sports, the nature of human achievement, and the ethical considerations of using science and technology to enhance physical performance.

Legal Hurdles and the Path Forward

The Enhanced Games also navigate a complex legal landscape, where the use of anabolic steroids without a prescription is illegal in many jurisdictions, including the United States. This legal framework presents a significant challenge for the event, requiring careful consideration of the locations where it can be held and how athletes can participate without violating laws.

D'Souza's approach, which includes exploring countries with more permissive regulations on steroid use, underscores the logistical and legal challenges inherent in bringing the Enhanced Games to fruition. Despite these challenges, the financial and logistical support from high-profile venture capitalists suggests a strong belief in the event's potential.

The involvement of individuals like Peter Thiel, known for backing ventures that challenge the status quo, adds a layer of credibility and intrigue to the project. However, the ultimate success of the Enhanced Games will depend on its ability to navigate ethical, legal, and logistical hurdles while maintaining the interest of athletes, spectators, and sponsors.

Reimagining Athletic Competition

The broader implications for society and young athletes, in particular, remain a concern. The message that the Enhanced Games send about drug use and athletic achievement could have lasting effects on sports culture and young people's attitudes toward performance enhancement.

As such, the responsibility of the organizers to ensure the health and safety of participants, while also addressing the ethical and societal implications of their venture, is paramount.