Grotesque Enhanced Games removes brain barrier in quest to get running

<span>The Enhanced Games has money behind it and athletes interested but no date yet.</span><span>Illustration: Nathan Daniels</span>
The Enhanced Games has money behind it and athletes interested but no date yet.Illustration: Nathan Daniels

There has always been a fascination with drugs and their effects on the human body, from druid-craft to medical science, to getting lobe-mashed on half a chong of Clarky Cat; from experiments in human perception and opening the third eye, to the possibility of developing slightly musclier upper arms.

In the last few months professional sport has dished up its own vision of extreme permissiveness. There is a good chance you’ve already heard about the Enhanced Games, if only because, despite not actually existing yet, it has a sensationally good public relations arm.

The basic premise is simple and reliably shocking. What if we just removed all barriers to taking drugs in sport? What if we rewarded and celebrated drug-assisted achievements, explored the wild frontier of juiced-up human potential, and introduced newer, kinder language to destigmatise the unfairly marginalised drug-taking community, so dopers become “Enhanced”, non-dopers “Natural”, supporters and consumers “Allies”?

Related: Enhanced Games: drug-friendly sports competition gains prominence even as the backlash grows

Well, then you end up with the Enhanced Games, billed (by itself) as the Olympics of the Future, the first edition of which is still promising to take place some time this year. The founder of the Enhanceds is someone called Aron Ping D’Souza, American tech entrepreneur, personality-capitalist and one of those business people whose rhetorical style involves boasting about their own extreme, brutal, gamechanging honesty, even while spouting the most unbelievable horseshit.

Since last summer’s initial announcement at least 900 athletes have, according to D’Souza, registered an interest in Enhanced competition, no doubt drawn by the cash prizes on offer, including at least $1m (£788,000) on the table for “the first enhanced athlete to publicly break Usain Bolt’s [100m] world record”.

Two more key steps have now been taken. There was a first public creak of the door as retired Australian Olympic swimmer James Magnussen said he was ready to accept a $1.5m offer to stick a spike into his vein and try to break the 50m freestyle record; while also, and the Enhanced Games really can’t emphasise this enough, breaking down the prejudices and false assumptions that have held you, yes you, back for so long. And this is the big thing about the Enhanceds, the deeply cynical marketing genius of the whole thing. How to make this feel legitimate and necessary as opposed to, say, grotesque and weird? How do you make people want to watch while still feeling good and not like some kind of Victorian freak voyeur?

Look through the bumf and there’s stuff there about how it’s actually more, not less, healthy to take drugs. There’s a timeline showing that even the ancient Greeks and Romans were juiced to the gills on performance skag, but then the Romans also washed their clothes in piss and were legally permitted to murder their children.

There’s a degree of snarling hatred for the elites, those dear old legacy powers that are always holding you back. There’s a rag-bag of body autonomy stuff, some big-pharma boilerplate.

Mainly though this is all about freedom. Astonishingly, shamelessly, brilliantly, drug-addled athletes are presented here as a marginalised minority group, victims of mass prejudice, the last frontier of social justice. It is hard to express just how disorientatingly post-truth this all is. Best perhaps just to dive right in to the part where the Enhanced Games makes this statement. “‘Doping’ is a colonialist slur that reeks of symbolic and historic violence against both the Black and enhanced populations and needs to be removed from our vocabulary”.

Yes. This is real. What they’re saying is that being on drugs is pretty much the same as being black. They’re going with doped lives matter. They’re comparing the burdens of “the enhanced community” ie drugged athletes, with the struggle for civil rights, the legacy of slavery, with centuries of blood-soaked racial apartheid and its associated scars.

This is of course deeply cynical and cheap. But it is at least non-exclusive. Being on drugs is not just like being black. Being on drugs is also like being gay. “Think back 50 years ago, being a gay man was like being enhanced today. It’s stigmatised, it’s marginalised,” D’Souza has said, and true to this vision the Enhanced website carries a detailed section on the trials of “coming out” as enhanced to your family, friends and colleagues (who frankly don’t care, please put your singlet back on), with much talk of allies, support networks and being kind.

This is the most amazing bullshit; bullshit so bold and fresh and shameless you feel like rising from your seat and throwing flowers, applauding wildly, a hand raised to your flushed and heaving décolletage. And in that moment it does at least become clear what this actually is.

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It’s a sales pitch. An aggressive, hot button-hammering pitch for your consumer support. The reason Enhanced has come on so strong in the past few weeks is that significant investment has now arrived via a raft of charismatic major players, from the very rich, very anti-elites (again with this?) Balaji Srinivasan to Peter Thiel, a classic disrupter-rainmaker type who seems to talk a lot about “creating new spaces for freedom”, the kind of phrase that, whatever voice you say it in, sounds like code for rounding people up and herding them on to buses and/or a private addiction to some niche form of masturbation. These are people who have made their fortunes in the ongoing 25-year digital golden age for being a relentless semi-lunatic with a vision, some seed capital and a laptop; and above all people who know how to monetise something like this.

And really just think how much money there is to be made here, not just in TV rights and advertising, but from the actual drugs, the as-yet undreamt-of high-performance juices, all of it marketed via a live laboratory show. Four million Americans already take PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs), which really isn’t that many, considering. Those revenues are untapped, the market wide open.

This is the thing about the Enhanced. It may be grotesque, a way of completely misunderstanding the point of sport, replacing things like narrative, emotional connections, human failure as well as human success with the most furiously literal-minded, outcome-based version, sport as reimagined by a particularly dull robot, sport as a pornography of human performance.

But it also just feels like it’s going to happen, in part because there is enough of an actual honest conversation to be had about where this stuff is going, about young people’s view of the old stigmas around substances (basically, they don’t seem to care) about the culture of the pachydermic old legacy Games itself.

And also because things that seem absurd have a habit of coming to pass now. You will have started reading this article in a state of bafflement and disbelief. A few hundred words in, it doesn’t actually feel absurd at all, just like one of those things that just sort of happen, a logical next step.

Big Sport has opened the door to this kind of disruptive new player, with its familiar playbook of faux morality and greed, the almost total loss of legitimacy in the public eye. So why not just give in to its sham beliefs, its glorious nihilism live from Bahrain 2028 as some eye-boggling Azerbaijani haemorrhages his way across the line, obliterating the 800m semi-mutant world record, while we all talk approvingly about his dignity, his journey, his empowerment. Join the movement. Click on the links. Get Enhanced.

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