Mechanical Ergogenic Aids and Cheating in Sport

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					     Mechanical Ergogenic Aids and Cheating in Sport
                                      Amber Hnatiuk

                          57.234 Philosophy of Physical Activity
                  Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Studies
                                   University of Manitoba
                                    November 16, 2005


With the increasing demand for high performance among elite athletes, one is introduced
to small aspects of sport that, when enhanced, can determine an outcome of winning or
losing. One of these aspects involves the use of technologically advanced equipment in
sport called mechanical ergogenic aids. This type of equipment may include U-grooved
clubs in golf, solid disk wheels in cycling, or streamlined swimsuits in swimming. Regardless
of the context, the question is whether or not using this type of equipment which is
specifically designed to enhance athletes’ performance, should be considered a form of
cheating. To answer this question, we must first define cheating and clarify what is meant
by mechanical ergogenic aids. Once the definitions have been discussed, it is easier to look
at the rules and components of sport which may indicate that cheating is present in the
particular situation. It will also help to understand the intention involved when using
mechanical ergogenic aids and the unfair advantage that follows. Such a controversial topic
allows sport philosophers to analyze what should be permissible regarding the
enhancement of sporting performance.

                                   What is Cheating?

Cheating has always been a highly debated topic among sport philosophers when
discussing the issues that constitute cheating and whether or not cheaters are actually
playing the game. To define cheating, I believe we must first look at the concept of intent.
The player who cheats must be aware that what he/she is doing is creating an advantage
over his/her opponent beyond that of natural skill and strategy. Thus the cheater has
chosen to gain an unfair advantage by participating in deceptive practices. Leaman, in his
article, agrees by stating that, “intention to deceive is a necessary condition of cheating,”
(pg. 278).

  Other philosophers argue that if one cheats, he/she has not conformed to the rules of
the game, and therefore has ceased to play the game because rules are a necessary
component of games. Leaman refutes this point explaining, “the cheater seeks to gain an
advantage over the opposition in a game and through the game, and so he wants to stay in
the game and not destroy it,” (pg. 280).

   After reviewing such comments and explanations from experienced sports philosophers,
I have come to define cheating as, “an act by which an athlete intentionally seeks to gain an
unfair advantage over his/her opponents.” This definition shall be referred to and utilized
throughout the discussion of this paper.

                      What are mechanical ergogenic aids?

When defining mechanical ergogenic aids it is important to understand the specific
outcomes resulting from such technology and distinguish them from what they are not. In
this context, mechanical ergogenic aids are equipment necessary for participation in sport
itself, while at the same time, enhance the performance of an athlete through their
sophisticated technology. For example, this may include using light, streamlined bats in
order to hit the ball further in baseball, or streamlined swimsuits in competitive swimming
in order to reduce drag (Holowchak, pg. 76 & 82). These mechanical ergogenic aids must
be utilized in a competitive sport setting and manufactured and designed to provide the
athlete with an opportunity to become more efficient in sport. Mechanical ergogenic aids
are not however, defined in this discussion as any equipment used to train an athlete or
develop his/her performance. Examples include: swinging heavy bats to quicken one’s
swing in baseball or using paddles to develop a proper swim stroke.

                            As: An extension of the body

The question remains as to whether or not using mechanical ergogenic aids in sport should
be considered a form of cheating. Looking into the components of sport, one realizes that
equipment is necessary for some sports to occur. For example, without a tennis racquet,
one could not engage in the game of tennis as it is defined. Although one may argue that
not all mechanical ergogenic aids are necessary for a particular sport to occur, it is logical
to assume that in Western society, one would not be able to participate in the sport
without appropriate equipment. An example of this would occur during a swimming
competition in which swimmers are required to wear a swimsuit, though it is not
necessary to actually engage in the act of swimming. Thus certain equipment can be
viewed as an extension of the body. Just as the body is necessary to fulfill the physical
component of sport by definition, the equipment that follows holds just as much

significance in the sporting context. The outcome of sport, whether it is viewed as
“striving together” to enhance sport, or as “outdoing” one’s opponent, relies on the use of
equipment and is unable to occur in absence of that equipment. With this in mind, we are
able to see how mechanical ergogenic aids provide the athlete with a superior
performance than that of which he/she was originally capable.

                                 As: “Unnatural” means
The problem that arises with mechanical ergogenic aids persists because they are
“unnatural” in sports competition; in other words, they are not “of or belonging to
nature,” (Howlochak, pg. 78). Howlochak extends this point by adding that in order to be
natural, “the origin must be in, and not outside of an athlete,” (pg. 78). As we are no doubt
aware, the use of mechanical ergogenic aids occur outside that of an athlete’s body, making
it external to the development of the athlete himself. In Gardner’s article he argues, “the
extrinsically gained capabilities are not directly related to the athlete per se,” (Gardner, pg.
66). Possessing these “unnatural”, external properties, designed to give the athlete an
advantage, suddenly creates a context for cheating. The actions and abilities of the
mechanically advanced ergogenic aids provide the athlete with means that give him/her an
advantage over opponents of the same skill level, an advantage that may have not occurred
in the absence of the external equipment. This advancement has been developed with
little effort on behalf of the athlete. Instead, those with the best equipment have a greater
opportunity to be successful in sport due to specially designed equipment. Such an
argument may seem rather illegitimate in some sports where the result will more likely be
determined by an athlete’s ability rather than the superior equipment; however in a sport
such as swimming, a swimsuit that glides over water faster than human skin may be all it
takes to give one athlete the edge over another by a hundredth of a second (Albergotti,
para. 2). It is realistic to say that the athletes must be comparable in skill level, but because
that is generally the case in elite sports, it is logical to say the swimmer who came out
successful in competition actually did so by means external to those of his/her body. The
mechanical ergogenic aids used were not controlled by the athlete, nor did he/she require
any effort to obtain it, so thus it is fair to say that the athlete has cheated.

                                As: Intention to deceive
By looking at the context in which one decides to use mechanical ergogenic aids in
competition, we are able to see how this intentional act directly relates to the definition of
cheating. As mentioned earlier, cheating has been defined as, “an act by which an athlete
intentionally seeks to gain an unfair advantage over his/her opponents”. By using
mechanical ergogenic aids, this intention to deceive is unavoidable by definition because the

aids are the cause of the advantage over the opponent. In addition, an athlete who uses
mechanical ergogenic aids has made an autonomous decision to utilize the equipment that
provides him/her with an unfair advantage in competition. Thus the prevalent advantage
and intention formerly described directly relate to the concept of cheating.
  In the past, some sports have banned certain types of mechanical ergogenic aids from
competition. For example, in 1990, the PGA tour banned U-grooved golf clubs because
many tests showed that they held quite an advantage over the traditional V-shaped grooves
(Gardner, pg. 68). In a sport like golf, such clubs are able to become the unfair advantage
between competitors of similar skill levels because the skills executed in golf are partially
dependant upon the design of the clubs.

                                As: Betterment of Sport
Some critics argue that using mechanical ergogenic aids in sport should not be considered
cheating because by using the aids, the athletes are striving together to enhance the quality
of sport. Since the goal of sport is to become as efficient as possible, athletes have found
additional ways to better their performance by using such technology. Though the goal of
sport is to become as efficient as possible, the means of advancing sport with mechanical
ergogenic aids emphasize less and less the athlete’s capabilities, and instead creates avenues
for lack of development in certain area that for which mechanical ergogenic aids are able to
make up. With all of the technological progress made in the past few decades, mechanical
ergogenic aids have become extremely sophisticated, and it is hard to imagine the lengths
to which they will extend and develop in the coming years (Holowchak, pg. 78). For this
reason it seems that if using these aids is not considered a form of cheating, sport
competition will be able to move outside of the body’s capabilities and instead focus on the
external, “unnatural” component of sport to determine the limits that one can reach.
   Unfortunately, in reality, sport is limited as to what can be considered cheating. When
such a wide variety of athletes are involved in sport it is not possible to require all athletes
to use the same equipment in competition. Because athletes have different body types,
what works well for one may not work well for another, and the same can be said about
mechanical ergogenic aids and types of equipment. Thus, if identical equipment was made
mandatory, one athlete would still have an external unfair advantage over the other. Also,
it is impossible to provide all athletes living in a variety of climates and of varying socio-
economic status with mechanical ergogenic aids in order for competition to be fair
amongst competitors.
  Perhaps this concept of what can actually occur in reality causes confusion when
discussing the dilemma of what should be considered cheating in sport, and what is actually

logical to be considered cheating in sport. Because there are many other factors —
unrelated to sport — that interfere, even though the use of mechanical ergogenic aids in
sport should be considered a form of cheating, it most likely never will to the extent that I
have discussed in this paper.

In summary, because mechanical ergogenic aids are “unnatural” to the body in sport, they
fit the context and should be considered a form of cheating. They provide the athlete with
a means to gain an unfair advantage over competitors without any effort exerted, and the
athlete makes the choice to use the mechanical ergogenic aids with the intention to
deceive his/her opponents. With these concepts in mind, one is able to see how they
directly relate to the definition of cheating.
   Though some have argued that these aids are simply used to fulfil the goal of sport which
is to become most efficient, this counter-argument can be refuted by contemplating the
lengths to which ergogenic aids may potentially develop. In time, emphasis may be taken
off of the athlete’s abilities and instead come to be placed on the effectiveness of the
enhanced equipment. If this were to happen, the focus of sport would be greatly shifted to
a different level. However, it is important to remember that reality presents major
problems when trying to equalize sport or limit cheating by use of mechanical ergogenic
aids, and thus the concept of reality should be revealed in discussions, yet it should not be
sufficient enough to contest the moral dilemma at hand. It is because of this concept that
we emphasize that what should be considered cheating in today’s sport, is not necessarily
the same as what is considered cheating in today’s sport.


Albergotti, R. (2004). High-tech swimsuits make waves. The Wall Street Journal, June 4.
Retrieved October 15, 2005, from
Gardner, R. (1989). On performance-enhancing substances and the unfair advantage
argument. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 16, 59-73.
Holowchak, M.A., (2002). Ergogenic aids and the limits of human performance in sport:
Ethical issues, aesthetic considerations. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29, 75-86.
Leaman, O. (1981). Cheating and fair play in sport. W.J. Morgan & K.V. Meier (eds.).
Philosophic Inquiry in Sport (277-282). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.