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Recently, competitors at the Swimming World Championships have been urging for anti-doping reforms. More particularly, two medallists at the competition who respectively came second and third in different events, refused to stand on the podium with the gold medallist of each event, Sun Yang, who has been accused of doping.

All athletes tamper with their bodies in some way or another. Below are examples of tampering which demonstrate varying degrees of social acceptability:

  • Athletes exercise, train and may follow special diets. A swimmer may wear special clothing designed to cut down water resistance, or might cut their hair and remove body hair for similar reasons.
  • Some may undergo cosmetic (nonessential) surgery, for example, to speed recovery from an injury or might opt for performance-enhancing surgery: a golfer or archer may get laser eye surgery in order to improve their accuracy.
  • Some use drugs designed to increase their muscle mass, which allows for faster oxygen delivery to their muscles and enables them to train longer.

For many, the first example is perceived as acceptable, whereas the third is regarded as outright cheating and the second point illustrates a somewhat grey area. What performance-enhancing methods should be allowed in sports and competition? Where can we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable; between what constitutes acceptable behaviour and what should be regarded as cheating? Are natural advantages, such as higher levels of testosterone, for example in the case of athlete Caster Semenya, unacceptable and/or unfair advantages? The answers to such questions stir heightened debate and discussion and should be given due attention.

Students planning to apply for Philosophy and PPE, along with those more generally interested in questioning and debating ethical issues found within the modern world, may want to critically reflect on such issues and how the philosophical theory could translate into implementable policies designed to target and reconcile such concerns.

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