Skip to main content

Performance-Enhancing Drugs and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

In a recent article, the use of performance-enhancing drugs was criticized in Russian athletes. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sought to reveal that Russia and many Russian professionals of assisting in and concealing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. One of the people interviewed in this article states, “Obviously, from an individual perspective, it’s about prize money, it’s about setting records, things like that. From a state perspective, the stakes are way higher. There’s way more money involved; that’s one reason. Two, there’s a lot of cross-country reputation, so there’s a lot of risk at stake that you will lose the reputation of being the dominant force in the sport. From a country perspective, it’s called a ‘prisoner’s dilemma,’ where no nation wants to fall behind, and they justify their behavior by saying, ‘It’s not only us who do that. Other countries do this as well. You just haven’t caught them yet, so in order to level the playing field, we’ll do the same.'”

Here, the interviewee mentions that the situation in Russia is a prisoner’s dilemma. How exactly is this the case? Let us examine the situation a little more closely. First we must determine the two players of our prisoner’s dilemma game: in this case, Russia and the other countries. Next we should consider what options our players can choose to take: the players can either choose to enforce the rules and prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs or ignore the use of these drugs. Let us examine the payoffs for each scenario: If both countries choose to allow these drugs, then they will perform better, but they will lose reputation as a result of allowing the use of these drugs; let us give this a payoff of (-1, -1). If both countries decide to not allow the use of these drugs, then both sides will be equal and there will be a fair game; let us give this a payoff of (0, 0). Finally, if one country utilizes these drugs and the other country does not, then the players who are doped will outperform those that are not and will win; let us give this payoff (+2, -2). Thus we have the resulting payoff matrix:

Russia\Other Countries Allow Drugs Prevent Drugs
Allow Drugs (-1\-1) (+2\-2)
Prevent Drugs (-2\+2) (0\0)

Here it is clear that a dominant strategy exists for both Russia and the other countries. The strategy is to always choose to allow drugs. The interviewee was correct when he stated that the situation was a prisoner’s dilemma. Both Russia and the other countries will refuse to prevent drugs as long as everyone else is not preventing them because it would be more detrimental to them to do so.



Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

November 2015