Neuro-Doping – a Serious Threat to the Integrity of Sport?

Neuroethics 14 (2):159-168 (2020)
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Abstract

The formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 was spurred by the 1998 revelation of widespread use in professional cycling of erythropoietin. The drug was supposedly a real danger. The long-term consequences were unknown, but rumor said it made athletes’ blood thick as jam with clots and other circulatory fatalities likely consequences. Today the fear of EPO has dampened. However, new scientific avenues such as ‘neuro-doping’ have replaced EPO as emergent and imagined threats to athletes and to the integrity of sport. In this paper, we analyze the alleged threat from ‘neuro-doping’ in the following steps: First, we outline an understanding of ‘neuro-doping’ in a narrow sense, which we then put into context by looking at the phenomenon in a broader sense. Second, we highlight examples of societal perceptions of sport and science in order to shed light on where the concern for ‘neuro-doping’ comes from. Third, we address the more general fear of technology as a root for this concern. Fourth, we examine the evidence for the performance enhancing capacities of ‘neuro-doping’, where after we look at the obstacles for a ban on this technology. We conclude the analysis by stating that at present ‘neuro-doping’ cannot be considered a threat to the integrity of sport. Finally, however, we put this conclusion into perspective by examining what the most reasonable response would be if in the future neuro-stimulation techniques becomes an effective performance-enhancing mean in sport.

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