Explore the economic and social implications of the Enhanced Games, a new league permitting performance-enhancing drugs.

The Enhanced Games: Revolutionizing Sports or Freak Show?

The advent of the Enhanced Games, a new sports league that permits the use of performance-enhancing drugs under medical supervision, marks a significant shift in the landscape of competitive sports. This initiative, backed by prominent investors and venture capital firms, aims to challenge traditional views on doping and athlete compensation. The implications of such a league extend beyond the realm of sports, touching on economic, social, and ethical dimensions. This article delves into these implications, examining the potential impacts on the sports industry, athlete welfare, public perception, and broader societal values.

The Economic and Social Implications of Creating a Separate Sports League that Permits the Use of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

The world of sports stands at the brink of a potential revolution with the introduction of the Enhanced Games, a new league that permits the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) under medical supervision. Backer Peter Thiel is in talks to raise around 300 million USD ¹. This bold initiative raises profound questions about the future of athletic competition, particularly regarding its economic and social implications.

 ¹ : The World Athletics Federation (formerly known as the IAAF) reported, for the year ending December 31, 2022, a revenue of $54.9 million, excluding the Olympic dividend ($83 million for the Tokyo Olympics) and $46.1 million in cash reserves. The World Aquatics Federation holds $24 million in cash reserves and $131.8 million in portfolio investments.

While the Enhanced Games claim to prioritize athletes' health, performance, and revenue, it is crucial to scrutinize these assertions critically. Proponents argue that the league offers substantial financial benefits, improved performance opportunities, and rigorous health monitoring. However, these claims may mask a fundamental shift away from the ethical principles and values upheld by traditional sports organizations.

Economic Implications of the Enhanced Games

Financial Stability for Athletes

One of the most compelling arguments for the Enhanced Games is the financial stability it promises athletes. Traditional sports often see athletes struggling financially, with 58% of elite athletes worldwide not financially stable ¹ and 46% of elite athletes in Australia earning less than $14,860 annually. The Enhanced Games propose a six-figure base salary for top-tier athletes and substantial rewards for breaking world records. This approach is reminiscent of professional esports leagues, such as the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), where the minimum salary is set at $75,000 USD.

 ¹ : A bit of research on job platform like Glassdoor can show us the average salary for a professional athlete. While they are a few that have a six-figure base salary, most are well under.

Applying this concept to traditional sports, the Enhanced Games could significantly improve athletes' livelihoods by providing a stable financial base. This financial security could attract top talent, enhancing the sport's competitiveness and marketability. World federations, like the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), could potentially adopt similar models to support their athletes better.

These benefits might come at a cost. The allure of financial gain could pressure athletes into using PEDs, potentially jeopardizing their long-term health for short-term monetary rewards. This scenario raises ethical questions about the exploitation of athletes, who might feel compelled to compromise their health and integrity for financial stability.

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Media and public interest

The Enhanced Games could attract significant sponsorship and media rights deals due to its unique and controversial nature. Companies aligned with cutting-edge science and innovation, such as pharmaceutical firms, might see this league as an ideal platform. Additionally, media interest in the league could lead to lucrative broadcasting deals, driving revenue streams comparable to, or even surpassing, traditional sports leagues. However, there is a high risk that certain sponsors and broadcasters may shy away due to ethical concerns and public backlash.

Envision an Olympic weightlifting athlete competing in the Enhanced Games and suddenly setting a record 20 kg higher than the current world record. Would you see this athlete as a champion or a clown?

Traditional sports at the Olympics are managed by complex systems of world sports organizations with multiple national, regional, and provincial federations, creating an environment where athletes compete in a safe, respectable and human environnement. In contrast, the Enhanced Games might resemble a show like American Ninja Warrior rather than the prestigious Olympic Games.

Social and Ethical Implications of the Enhanced Games

Shifting Public Perception of PEDs

Advocating for the safe, responsible, and clinically supervised use of PEDs could shift public perception, normalizing the use of enhancements in sports and potentially beyond. While this could lead to greater acceptance and understanding of scientific advancements in human performance, it also raises ethical concerns. Society might grapple with the message it sends about drug use, especially to younger audiences.

The message that success in sports can be chemically enhanced might undermine efforts to promote clean sport and the value of hard work, dedication, and natural talent. It risks setting a dangerous precedent, where the pursuit of excellence is overshadowed by the acceptance of drug use as a standard practice.

Ethical Considerations and Fairness

The introduction of a league where PEDs are permitted challenges traditional notions of fairness in sports. Critics argue that it undermines the spirit of competition, where natural talent and hard work are meant to prevail. Proponents, however, suggest that the Enhanced Games could level the playing field, making competitions more thrilling and transparent.

By allowing performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) under medical supervision, it challenges the moral and ethical frameworks established by organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). These bodies have long maintained that the use of PEDs undermines fair competition and the spirit of sport.

Training for the Enhanced Games in countries adhering to these regulations could pose significant health risks due to the lack of quality standards for illegally obtained products and the legal repercussions for medical staff involved.

By permitting such substances, the Enhanced Games bypass these moral and ethical considerations, potentially reducing sport to mere spectacle rather than a celebration of natural human athleticism and perseverance.

Impact on Athlete Health and Well-being

The Enhanced Games promise rigorous pre-competition health screenings and medically supervised PED use to ensure athletes' safety. However, there is skepticism about the long-term health implications of PEDs, even under medical supervision. Ensuring ongoing health monitoring and comprehensive post-competition care would be crucial to safeguarding athletes' well-being.

Historical data and medical research consistently highlight the potential adverse effects of PEDs on athletes' health, including cardiovascular issues, hormonal imbalances, and psychological effects. The long-term consequences of such enhancements remain uncertain, raising concerns about the genuine prioritization of athletes' well-being.

Transforming Sports into Entertainment Shows

Is sport truly about the final performance, or is it more about the journey and the relentless pursuit of greatness? Sports are not merely spectacles like a show or movie; they are a profound expression of dedication, perseverance, and the hardship required to perform at the highest level.

Why did private leagues ("corporations") like the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) or the CrossFit Games emphasized doping control and the promotion of clean sport after some time? It is, in part, to make their image more appealing to the masses, who initially viewed them as a kind of freak show. This shift toward integrity and fair play enhances their credibility and broadens their audience.

The Enhanced Games' approach risks transforming sports into entertainment spectacles, similar to reality TV or theatrical performances, where the primary goal is viewer engagement and ratings rather than genuine athletic achievement. This shift could detract from the intrinsic values of sportsmanship, discipline, and the natural limits of human performance, which are celebrated in traditional sports. The introduction of PEDs might lead to an overemphasis on extreme performances, overshadowing the athletes' dedication and effort.