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‘Extremely dangerous’: Health experts slam doping-friendly Enhanced Games

Athletes at the Paris Olympics later this month will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs, but doping will be the main issue in a competition scheduled to compete with the Games.

The Enhanced Games, scheduled for late next year, will not drug test competitors but instead encourage them to use medical advances to break world records.

By freeing athletes from the persecution of anti-doping organisations and embracing technology, organisers say the Enhanced Games aim to “safely transform humanity into a new superhumanity”.

‘Extremely dangerous’: Health experts slam doping-friendly Enhanced Games

Photo: Reuters

But researchers who study the effects of performance-enhancing drugs said they feared the Games could lead athletes to overdose, putting them at risk of heart attack, stroke or even death.

It remains unclear whether the enhanced Games will actually take place. World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has described the whole idea as “nonsense”.

But it began to gain momentum after retired Australian Olympic swimmer James Magnussen signed a contract earlier this year and the competition announced it had received millions of dollars in funding from investors including US libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel.

Oslo University Hospital researcher Astrid Kristine Bjornebekk said she was shocked to learn that this “extremely dangerous” idea could even become reality.

Bjornebekk, who has studied how anabolic steroids damage weightlifters’ brains, said the Games “will fuel unrestricted use.”

Demonstrating how the concept could encourage such use, Magnussen told a podcast that he would “go all out” to get the US$1 million on offer to break the 50m freestyle world record.

In addition to swimming, the games are also planned to feature sports such as athletics, gymnastics, weightlifting and combat sports.

Mixing steroids with combat sports like mixed martial arts “significantly increases” the risk of someone dying during competition, Bjornebekk said.

An Enhanced Games spokesman said all athletes would be “under constant supervision” after registering to avoid such risks.

The spokesman said this would include health checks, psychological screenings and monitoring using new technologies such as “real-time portable echocardiograms”.

But Dominic Sagoe, the University of Bergen researcher who led the study which found a third of steroid users became addicted, said the consequences of a successful Enhanced Games could “spread throughout society”.

Sagoe said he worries that children inspired by their sports heroes may seek out steroids, or that aspiring athletes could be pushed into the streets by steroid-fuelled rage for violence.

“We can’t even imagine the consequences,” he said. “This is no laughing matter.”

Experts said the most commonly used drug at the Games will be anabolic steroids.

Overuse of these steroids has been found to lead to liver or kidney damage, high blood pressure and cholesterol, infertility, mental health problems, and a higher risk of cancer.

But Sagoe said athletes must take a cocktail of drugs including growth hormones, blood doping using erythropoietin, insulin and more, and some also receive treatments to offset side effects.

“Probably the most dangerous drug combinations will perform the best,” Bjornebekk said.

An Enhanced Games spokesman said the “side effects and adverse reactions” of performance-enhancing drugs “can be avoided with appropriate clinical supervision and expert guidance”.

He added that a new health commission and scientific advisory board were still working on how the competition would monitor athlete safety.

John William Devine, a sports ethicist at Swansea University in England, said the Games could become a “tool of coercion” despite his claims that the Games were intended to increase athlete freedom.

“If you lift the ban on performance-enhancing drugs, will athletes be pressured by coaches, teammates, governments and even sponsors to take risks they wouldn’t normally take?” he asked.

Matthew Dunn, a steroid researcher at Deakin University in Australia, is concerned that athletes are sourcing drugs from the black market and using them unchecked.

However, he also acknowledged that despite all efforts, competitions such as the Olympics are “not 100 percent clean.”

“It will also be interesting to see what the human body can achieve when ‘enhanced,'” he added.

So could Enhanced Games one day surpass the Olympics?

“I think the vast majority of the public still likes the idea that success comes from talent, hard work and dedication, not a syringe,” Dunn said.

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