Friday, April 04, 2008

Doping Incentives

Quite an interesting article over at Scientific American on the incentives to get on the juice. Michael Shermer frames the game as a Prisoners' Dilemma and from here, develops recommendations for how sports can reach a non cheating Nash equilibrium.

* 1. Grant immunity to all athletes for past (pre-2008) cheating. Because the entire system is corrupt and most competitors have been doping, it accomplishes nothing to strip the winner of a title after the fact when it is almost certain that the runners-up were also doping. With immunity, retired athletes may help to improve the antidoping system.
* 2. Increase the number of competitors tested—in competition, out of competition, and especially immediately before or after a race—to thwart countermeasures. Testing should be done by independent drug agencies not affiliated with any sanctioning bodies, riders, sponsors or teams. Teams should also employ independent drug-testing companies to test their own riders, starting with a preseason performance test on each athlete to create a baseline profile. Corporate sponsors should provide additional financial support to make sure the testing is rigorous.
* 3. Establish a reward, modeled on the X prizes (cash awards offered for a variety of technical achievements), for scientists to develop tests that can detect currently undetectable doping agents. The incentive for drug testers must be equal to or greater than that for drug takers.
* 4. Increase substantially the penalty for getting caught: one strike and you’re out—forever. To protect the athlete from false positive results or inept drug testers (both exist), the system of arbitration and appeals must be fair and trusted. Once a decision is made, however, it must be substantive and final.
* 5. Disqualify all team members from an event if any member of the team tests positive for doping. Compel the convicted athlete to return all salary paid and prize monies earned to the team sponsors. The threat of this penalty will bring the substantial social pressures of “band of brothers” psychology to bear on all the team members, giving them a strong incentive to enforce their own antidoping rules.
A neat analysis but it is lacking because it focuses on reducing the payoff to doping rather than increasing the absolute (not relative) benefits to staying clean.

Following the assumption of institutionalised doping, these regulations are unlikely to be legitimate in the eyes of those who follow them. In addition to the above five, I would increase the payoff to those who openly come clean, to help those who participate in the sport and rely on it for their livelihoods make the transition from one equilibrium to another.

An added benefit is that this would raise the relative payoff to benefits whilst waiting for the testers to catch up with the users.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree, there does need to be incentives both ways with doping. Watching the Paris-Roubaix last night (and still buzzing) I had to wonder when these so called great all rounders as riders who are winning everything, stand on yet another podium... how long before we hear some very unpleasant news about them? It's not what you want to think, but while there's so much cheating going on, it's in the back of your mind every time an outstanding rider becomes more outstanding.

6:36 PM  

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