Turn to the back pages at the moment and it is difficult to get away from doping scandals.
‘Kenya faces fresh anti-doping crisis’ (12 May 2016)
‘New Russia doping cover-up alleged by Whistleblower’ (9 May 2016)
‘Maria Sharapova: Anti-doping panel to hear Meldonium case’ (17 May 2016)
In this piece we won’t be exploring the specifics of any of those cases but we will be looking at what the Bible says about doping in general.
At a basic level of course doping is cheating and cheating is both lying (claiming something that is not true) and disobeying the sports governing authorities and rule makers. Both of these are clearly prohibited in the bible (Colossians 3:9 ‘Do not lie to one another’, Romans 13:1 ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities’). But can we go any further in understanding the pathology of doping other than just pronouncing it a ‘sin’?
Well, first it is important to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong about sport. At various points in church history, sport has been declared inherently ‘bad’ or ‘idolatrous’ by the church. But as the blog ‘What does the Bible say about sport’ claims, sport is a good part of God’s creation, a gift from him. Doping happens because sport has been affected (and infected) by humanity’s fall into sin.
Secondly what is it that makes doping so prevalent? Partly it is the time we live in and a heady mix of professionalism in sport and drug innovation. Amateur players cheated (and still do) but it is still true that the huge sums of money involved in sport and the availability of drugs to enhance performance are factors encouraging doping.
But what is it that makes athletes want to take performance enhancing drugs in the first place? Partly it is a timeless desire in human beings to push the boundaries of what we can achieve. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) sums it up well. A key aspect of sport is a good desire to see what we can achieve; how fast can we go, how high can we jump, how well can we play? This is part of our creatureliness rejoicing in our talents and exploring what it means to be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
This desire becomes distorted though when it extends beyond exploring our creatureliness and becomes about wanting to become more. The original temptation of the serpent was to be ‘like God’ (Genesis 3:5) and so often the motivation behind doping is a desire to be more than we are, more than God has made us.
When Lance Armstrong won his seventh consecutive Yellow Jersey in the Tour De France in 2005, he stood on the Champs-Élysées with people questioning whether he had doped and said, “I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”
Do you hear the narrative? He was claiming to be more than he was. We sometimes use the hyperbole, ‘that was a superhuman effort’ (and it was often used to describe Lance Armstrong), but the truth is that the very best achievements in sport show us not something ‘superhuman’ but the best of being human.
God has given us great ability and also creaturely limitations. Sport at its best is a mutual exploration of those abilities within God’s good limitations, but sport at its worst is when we seek to transcend those limitations and buy into the lie that we can be more than God has made us to be.
Pete Nicholas, Inspire Church London
Pete was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2017 and is a rugby player by background who now plays touch rugby. Pete is ordained in the Church of England and Minister in Charge of Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell in London.
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