The Machiavellian Reasons Behind Doping



Image by: Keith Allison

The use of performance enhancing drugs in sports has been all over the news in the past few years. Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Marion Jones, Guillermo Cañas, Diego Armando Maradona, and many other exceptional athletes have been involved in a doping scandal recently.

Doping can be defined as the use of illegal substances in order to improve athletic performance. Even though it is banned from all sports at a professional level and severely punished, there are still many athletes that engage in this illegal activity. Although they know using these drugs affect their health to a great extent in some cases, hurt their public image and even result in a life-suspension from competitive sports; some athletes still use steroids. But why? This I what I will be analyzing in this blog. I don’t want to write a post about how doping is bad for athletes and for sports in general. Instead, I will take the risk of playing the Devil’s advocate and try to analyze and support doping from a Machiavellian perspective.

Santi di Tito’s famous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art)

Machiavellianism is a term that refers to an opportunist person who acts in a way that is convenient, cunning, deceiving, evasive or not very trustable, (often by engaging in immoral or improper behavior), in order to achieve what he or she wants. From the book The Prince, I learned that some people believe ends justify the means under some circumstances. Having that as a start point, what I want to accomplish in my blog post, is to defend doping as Niccolò Machiavelli would. And this is what a Machiavellian athlete that engages in doping might tell you about why he or she does it…

‘Even though doping might be seen as wrong, it improves my performance and therefore improves the sport in general’. An athlete that cares more about the end product than the means, might use this as an argument to support doping. It has been showed that steroids are an artificial booster that improves athletic rendition (and this is in part one of the main reasons why it is banned). Doping gives athletes the opportunity to become bigger, faster and better.So why forbid an athlete from performing to his or her very best? At the end of the day wouldn’t everyone want sports at a professional level to be even more competitive? A Machiavellian athlete that supports doping might say that forbidding this activity could be like forbidding a gamer to earn a power-up in a video game; it is an unnecessary limitation that results in the failure to explode a person’s talent to the maximum level.

‘Many other athletes are doing it as well so it is the only way to keep up’. A Machiavellian athlete might also say that the fact that other athletes are using these drugs gives him or her the right to do it as well. Not only does this activity become less wrong if his or her peers are engaged in it too; it also becomes the only way to thrive and be successful in the sport. It is not fair to be the only one not using drugs to improve performance. Getting involved in this activity that is often classified as immoral, becomes a necessity.

‘It might hurt my body in the long wrong, but it is my choice and the satisfaction of winning is worth the consequences’. A Machiavellian athlete might also using this argument to support steroids. At the end of the day, the benefit and satisfaction of winning can be to that person more relevant than the collateral damage. And a Machiavellian athlete would think of himself or herself first; his own benefit would be above other people’s opinions. This athlete would state he is capable of making decisions for himself and that doping can be the path to achieving athletic excellence.


As a final note, I want to leave it explicitly clear that I do not support doping and I do not believe the reasons stated above offset the arguments against performance enhancing drugs. I would need another blog post to write my personal opinion on the matter and come to a final conclusion. I just wanted to analyze doping from the perspective nobody seems to defend; and trying to think as Machiavelli would have responded in this situation turned out to be a very interesting activity.



  1. mcpatton2014 · October 26, 2014

    This is definitely an interesting argument about the use of steroids by athletes from a Machiavellian perspective. However, Machiavelli argues in favor of doing something ethically problematic but the end result is ethically praiseworthy. That is, something good happens as a result of a ethically shady move. I would argue that nothing ethically praiseworthy happens as a result of taking steroids. While steroids may be entertaining for the sports and make it more enjoyable to watch, that doesn’t ethically justify taking steroids.


  2. hsharf · October 27, 2014

    You bring up many interesting points for the use of steroids in athletics. Steroids do provide a more entertaining product of almost any sport. Look at baseball, since stricter steroid regulations have been implemented by the MLB the average number of home runs and runs scored have decreased drastically. This ultimately creates a less entertaining game and has led to less and less people watching baseball. Nevertheless, I think you neglect one of the major arguments against steroids. Many argue that the use of anabolic steroids ultimately take away from the “purity” of the game and creates an unequal playing field. A case could be made that the purity of the game is taken away through large contracts and compensation for playing these sports. Furthermore, one can make the case that any player could obtain steroids and take them. In my opinion, steroids should be banned simply for the harm it does to one’s body and the unfair advantage it gives athletes.


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