February 29, 2024

In a case of life imitating Saturday Night Live, Peter Thiel has invested in a seed round of the Enhanced Games, which describes itself as “the modern reinvention of the Olympic Games that does not have drug testing.”

It does seem to go a little beyond just not testing, though, at least judging by the press release. The investors “see the vision of a new model of sports, that openly celebrates scientific innovation and honestly represents the use of performance enhancements in sports today,” said Aron D’Souza, president of the Enhanced Games, in the statement. Thiel himself certainly has no problem backing medical experiments.

The release says some weird things about not burdening taxpayers because it’s a private company, which made me laugh pretty hard, given the history of privately owned teams demanding taxpayer-funded stadiums. In fairness to the Enhanced Games, their initial focuses appear to be track and field, swimming, gymnastics, weight lifting, and “combat sports,” which have less of a history of strong-arming the public than, let’s say, baseball or football. Of course, that may simply be because those sports are less popular!

I am not going to ask too many questions about the legality of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs); many are legal with a prescription, anyway. (Laws and enforcement also vary by country.) There are some health risks involved with PEDs, as there are with all drugs. The Enhanced Games attempts to allay this concern by noting it will do extensive medical checks before events, which seems wise; having an athlete’s arms fall off during competition would be, at minimum, bad press.

Personally, I don’t especially care what adults do with their bodies, drug-wise. I do think, however, the Enhanced Games is missing out on some chances to innovate. Here are some of my proposals:

The point of testing for PEDs in sports is, as I understand it, to provide an equal playing field for athletes who can’t or won’t use them. (Russia even ran state-sponsored doping programs, which certainly feels like an unfair advantage against smaller competitors.) But detection and enforcement have been decidedly uneven. Who knows? Maybe the Enhanced Games will draw the PED users away from other sports, leaving the athletes who prefer to work clean better able to showcase their own abilities.