Billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has invested in a drug-friendly sports contest styled as a “modern reinvention of the Olympic Games,” part of a movement embracing ways science and technology can enhance human performance that critics argue endangers both athletes’ health and sport itself.
- Thiel was revealed as an investor in a “multi-million dollar” seed round on Tuesday for the Enhanced Games, a privately funded sporting contest that describes itself as the “Olympics of the future.”
- Thiel is joined by the likes of Balaji Srinivasan, a cryptocurrency investor and former CTO of Coinbase, and Christian Angermayer, a biotech investor who said the games “will undoubtedly inspire the public’s imagination.”
- The Enhanced Games said it will not test athletes for drugs or other performance enhancers at its events—it is not clear when the first competition will take place—explaining it “embrace[s] the inclusion of science in sports” and is “unencumbered by anachronistic legacy systems” that are “anti-science” and stigmatize “enhanced athletes.”
- The contest said it is aiming to be the “safest international sporting event in history” and will require full medical screens on athletes competing to monitor any risks.
- While the “Enhanced Movement” stresses enhancements as a “personal” choice for competitors, the contest’s website says it “embraces enhanced athletes” and wants to push the “perceived limit” of what is possible, with the ultimate goal of setting new world records.
- Team sports have been culled from the contest to better focus on individual prowess, and events will be held across five core sporting categories: athletics, aquatics, combat, gymnastics and strength.
How Can I Compete?
The Enhanced Games says it is going to be the “most inclusive sports league in history.” All adults will be welcome to apply to compete in the games, organizers said, regardless of whether they are “natural, adaptive, or enhanced, an amateur or a former Olympian.” Registration will open in late 2024. Precise dates for the contest are not yet known.
“Contemporary drug testing practised in sports today is not necessarily about athlete safety; it often skews the public perception of fairness and health in competitive sports,” said Michael Sagner, a member of the games’ scientific and medical advisory board and a clinician and researcher in aging and sports medicine at King’s College London. Sagner said Enhanced will adopt a “sophisticated safety protocol” that will put athletes’ health first.
The Enhanced Games’ organizers say they hope to avoid the excessive waste and costs associated with the modern Olympic Games. The Enhanced Games have been designed so they can be hosted at a Division One university campus, its website said, avoiding the need to build new stadiums and push cities into debt. It will also mean athletes can be paid fairly, boasts Aron D’Souza, president of the Enhanced Games. While the Olympic Games can generate billions in revenue, successful athletes see only a fraction of the bounty. “By focusing on world records in popular sports such as track and field, swimming, gymnastics, weight lifting and combat sports, we can eliminate wasteful infrastructure spending and reinvest to fairly pay all athletes.”
What We Don’t Know
It’s not clear how much athletes competing in the Enhanced Games stand to win. The games’ organizers say an exact prize pool and compensation structure will be announced in the middle of 2024. All athletes will be paid a base salary and will compete for additional prize winnings, organizers said.
By nature, competitive athletes strive to be the very best at what they do and train hard to achieve this. Inevitably, athletes look beyond themselves for ways of getting an edge, which can range from an improved diet, training at high altitudes and exploiting advances in sports medicine and psychology to high-tech gear like bikes, shoes and swimming costumes, blood doping and drugs.
A number of these methods, notably using drugs, have potentially negative health consequences for athletes and are viewed as giving an unfair advantage over other competitors. While there is no clear consensus on where the dividing line is between permissible and impermissible enhancement—the boundary often changes with new scientific advances as well—high level contests frequently test athletes to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes in many professional leagues can be sanctioned or barred from competition for doping, and some fans reject any records set by athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs.
Critics argue efforts like the Enhanced Games put athletes’ health at risk and undermine the integrity and fairness of sporting competition. Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), told CNN the idea of such a contest is “farcical,” adding that it’s “a dangerous clown show, not real sport.”
It’s also likely illegal in many states on account of the legal status of some performance enhancers like anabolic steroids, which can help boost muscle mass, Tygart said.
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva was banned from competing internationally for four years on Monday for an anti-doping violation from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. She had won gold in the team figure skating event, though the medal has now gone to Team USA.
We estimate Thiel has a net worth of $6.2 billion. The sum positions him as the 443rd richest person in the world on Forbes’ list of real-time billionaires. Thiel cofounded PayPal and big data firm Palantir and was the first big investor in Facebook.
This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.