Hobbes’ Laws and Doping

Performance enhancing drugs have been a problem in professional sports for decades. But perhaps no sport has suffered more from PEDs than cycling. Most notably, Lance Armstrong, who served as the face of professional cycling for many years, was found to have used PEDs and was stripped of his 7 Tour de France wins. But Armstrong was not alone. Over the past several years, dozens of cyclists have been disqualified from races. In a sport where PEDs are used with such regularity, we have to question why they are even banned in the first place. I mean, why prevent athletes from performing their best? In his book Leviathan, philosopher Thomas Hobbes defines the laws of nature. He argues that for life to be most comfortable, we must form agreements with groups of people in which we forfeit some of our individual rights for the benefit of the group as a whole. This idea of forfeiting rights as a group resonates with the rules of sports, especially with PEDs and cycling.

In cycling, the participants have agreed to not use PEDs to enhance their performance, because this helps the sport of cycling as well as all of the participants. Many of the most common performance enhancing drugs in professional sports have extremely negative side-effects and can greatly shorten one’s life. So, as a group, cyclists have decided to ban the use of these drugs for the common good. This agreement, which Hobbes calls a covenant, is vital for humans to survive in nature. However, these agreements can be very problematic when some decide to break the covenant for personal benefit, which is exactly what has happened in professional cycling.

Lance Armstrong, after finally admitting to doping for a number of years, was stripped of all of his Tour de France medals as well as banned from professional cycling for life. Lance was one of the first participants to break the covenant of cycling by using these illegal drugs. Because he was so popular in the world of sports, as well as his history with cancer and his LIVESTRONG Foundation, he was able to avoid being caught for so many years. But his actions involving PEDs did not only affect his career, but also the sport of cycling as a whole.

Lance wasn’t the only one doping during these years. In fact, because so many of the medaling cyclists during this time had been linked to doping, no winner has been awarded for the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005. Lance’s actions changed cycling, because once one cyclist uses these drugs, it is no longer in each individual’s interest to not use them. Hobbes suggests that these covenants are in place to protect the greater good, and they are. But in the case of cycling, all it took was a couple cyclists to abuse these rules for their own benefit to change the dynamic of the sport. Hobbes argues that no one man can survive without a covenant, because the world is harsh, and we need others we can trust to survive. While at first it seems like Armstrong was able to thrive by breaking his covenant with cycling, in the end, Hobbes’ law of nature held true. He was eventually punished for his actions, and his career as a cyclist is forever tainted.

3 thoughts on “Hobbes’ Laws and Doping

  1. Great post here,
    I would like to point out another aspect of Hobbes theory that could be applied to Lance. Hobbes stated that seemingly altruistic actions were actually selfish. In Lance’s case, his foundation was actually just a cover up for his actions. His foundation was formed to better his image, a very selfish action. Hobbes theory is perfectly demonstrated by Lance and his so called “charitable” actions. Just something to add.


  2. Well I do think this is an interesting point, I think that Hobbes’ Law does not explain him getting his punishments. There are many athletes in the world who do use performance enhancing drugs and other substances to get an competitive edge over others and they do end up getting away with it. I think at the end of the day, it is just pure luck and destiny that reveals who cheated just as Machiavelli said.


  3. I actually think this a good example of Hobbes’ Law because it shows the flip side of breaking covenants. It showcases the consequences for breaking covenants and shows us that no one is above the rules no matter who you are.


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