What if the Olympics occurred once a year, paid athletes directly based on their performance, and — here’s the kicker — required no drug testing at all?
The radical concept is the vision for the newly announced Enhanced Games, which has the support of several swimmers including Olympic gold medalist Roland Schoeman and three-time Olympian Brett Fraser on its Athletes Advisory Commission.
The Enhanced Games, which claims to be the first international sports competition to fully embrace performance enhancements, also features a Scientific and Ethical Advisory Commision that will host scientific symposiums alongside the annual event. The idea of a doped Olympics has been floated in hypothetical debates and comments sections for decades, but now it could actually become a reality.
“We believe that science is real and has an important place in supporting human flourishing,” said Aron D’Souza, president of the Enhanced Games, who led billionaire Peter Thiel’s litigation against Gawker Media involving wrestler Hulk Hogan. “There is no better way to highlight the centrality of science in our modern world than in elite sports. We all know that the use of performance enhancements in sports is an open secret. The safest way to level the playing field is to allow athletes to openly use science to achieve their full potential.”
Fraser also disputed the notion of a level playing field in the current Olympic model, pointing to special-use exemptions with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as one around the system.
“I’m aware of athletes in the sport of swimming who have special-use exemptions with WADA, with USADA, that allow them to take medications or use therapies that not all athletes have access to, or not athletes are allowed to take either,” Fraser said.
The inaugural competition is slated for December of 2024, with five sports — athletics, swimming, gymnastics, combat sports, and weightlifting — that “can be delivered without specialized infrastructure at any Division I university campus,” according to D’Souza.
“We have specifically designed the selection of events so we can demolish the world records,” D’Souza said. “Who’s going to want to watch the old, boring, slow Olympics when all the world records were set at the Enhanced Games?”
What is currently excluded under WADA code, according to D’Souza, is purely arbitrary. He noted how marijuana is barred from use in international competitions because it goes against the spirit of the sport and is a performance-enhancing drug, despite increasing scientific consensus against the latter assertion. He also pointed to FDA-approved anti-aging treatments that could extend careers if they weren’t banned internationally.
“I truly believe that athletes are adults, who with free and informed consent, can make choices about their own body,” D’Souza said. “My body, my choice — your body, your choice. We have to respect that right for individuals and that freedom for them to make their own choice about their own bodies.”
Fraser, a two-time NCAA champion at Florida who made Olympic semifinals in 2008, 2012, and 2021 while representing the Cayman Islands, said it was discouraging to compete against athletes suspected of doping as a clean athlete himself. But he believes the Enhanced Games will give athletes more opportunities to create meaningful careers.
“I think we are solving so many problems, so many inefficiencies in the current model — especially for swimmers, but for the whole Olympic movement,” said Fraser, the Chief Athletes Officer for the Enhanced Games. “Swimmers dedicate their lives to training — they sacrifice their bodies, they sacrifice their time — in order to have about two minutes or less every four years at the Olympics. If you get sick, you miss your chance — you miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Creating an event that happens every year with more aligned financial incentives for athletes, mental health support, and access to doctors and scientists that can use medical therapies that are non-invasive to allow you increase your longevity, to allow you to perform better in training, to allow you to perform better in competition, to allow you to feel better.”
Four of the six members of the Athletes Advisory Commission are swimmers. Fraser and Schoeman are joined by Swiss Olympic swimmer David Karasek, former University of Arizona swimmer Luke Pechmann, Canadian Olympic bobsledder Christina Smith, and Drone Racing League founder Nicholas Horbaczewski. Schoeman served a one-year doping suspension in 2020 for a positive test in 2019, which he blamed on a tainted supplement but could not provide proof. In May, it was reported that Schoeman would swim at the 2023 World Championships at 43 years old.
“The reason why swimmers are attracted to this more than other athletes is the dedication, the time, and the lack of reward that swimmers get outside of the emotional benefit, the high you get, once you make an Olympic final,” Fraser said. “But to get to that place, you spend your entire life trying to get to that position. So there’s a really deep connection to the effort that was put in and to the compensation, whether it’s fiscal compensation or just being able to live comfortably and have a career after swimming. I think it’s because there’s a major misalignment between the amount of effort that swimmers put in and the reward after they succeed at the highest level. If you’re Michael Phelps, you can market yourself. But Michael won eight gold medals — I don’t think we’ll see that again in our lifetimes.”
D’Souza called out the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not paying athletes fairly for their labor and said the Enhanced Games aims to adopt a co-ownership model with its athletes. He added that his venture won’t rely on taxpayers to help foot the bill for competitions, citing debts created by recent Olympics in Montreal, Athens, and Rio. D’Souza claimed the Olympics has wastefully spent $100 billion over the past two decades, mostly on infrastructure that doesn’t last.
“The Olympics are quite a perplexing system,” D’Souza said. “You have $8 billion in revenue that comes in every four years. Thomas Bach, the IOC president, flies around the world in a private jet, he acts like a head of state, he literally lives in a palace paid for by the IOC. Yet the athletes of the world don’t get paid a single cent. What was most disappointing about this process was talking to hundreds of athletes and learning the impoverished financial conditions that they are in whilst members of the IOC live in absolute excess. It’s unequal to the point of being exploitative.”
The organization’s website even includes a section titled “7 Tips on How to Come Out as Enhanced.” But “natural” athletes who don’t take any performance enhancers will also be welcome at the Enhanced Games.
“I sincerely hope that a natural athlete will show up and say, ‘I’m still WADA-compliant, I’m going to beat all of you enhanced athletes,’” D’Souza said. “I’m not sure that will actually happen, but there might be someone who won the genetic lottery… Genetic lottery has no reflection upon one’s effort or hard work. So enhancements and science can help us overcome that.”