Joe Fore

Moving Beyond 'Gene Doping': Preparing for Genetic Modification in Sport

Virginia Journal of Law & Technology


Advances in biotechnology have raised the specter of "gene doping" the use of genetic modification to enhance athletic performance. Although gene transfer therapies are relatively immature and still unfit for widespread human use, the potential for tremendous-and undetectable-performance gains makes these techniques alluring to athletes. International sporting organizations, acting in the name of athlete safety and promoting fair play, have preemptively condemned the practice of genetic modification in sport.

Implementing a strict ban on genetic modification, however, may prove difficult. While safety concerns currently provide adequate justification for a total ban, improvements in technology and greater societal acceptance of genetic therapies are likely to make genetic modification in sport more palatable to athletes and spectators. Furthermore, straightforward application of the punitive model used for traditional forms of doping is problematic because of the difficulty of detecting and punishing those who use the techniques and because the ethical arguments against traditional doping carry somewhat less force in the context of gene-based enhancement.

Accordingly, this Article examines how athletic organizations can accommodate genetic modification in sport, which would allow them to protect athlete safety and ensure a level playing field, while not stigmatizing genetic technology more generally. The Article concludes that while international sports regulatory bodies should play a role in discussing the role of genetics in society, they should withhold their strict condemnation of genetic modification in sport until broader cultural norms regarding the desirability of human genetic enhancement are more firmly established.


Joe Fore, Moving Beyond 'Gene Doping': Preparing for Genetic Modification in Sport, 15 Virginia Journal of Law & Technology, 76–100 (2010).

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