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Thursday, February 29, 2024

An Olympics With Doping? Big Money Is Backing Controversial Start-Up

  • Billionaire Peter Thiel is backing a radical new competition that openly encourages PEDs.
  • Effort challenges not only existing sports culture, but also potentially U.S. law.
Peter Thiel
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the most powerful billionaires in the world is now advancing one of the most controversial ideas to hit the sports industry in years. 

Peter Thiel—the cofounder of PayPal, a key early backer in Facebook, and more recently an entrepreneur, investor, and political activist—is throwing his weight and part of his estimated $6.2 billion fortune behind the Enhanced Games, a start-up multisport competition in which athletes are actively encouraged to use performance-enhancing drugs. Thiel is joined in the Enhanced Games seed round—reportedly in the high seven-figure range—by several other venture capital titans, including Apeiron Investment Group’s Christian Angermayer, whose own net worth reaches $1 billion, and former Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan.

The audacious concept—once just a Saturday Night Live skit—behind the Enhanced Games: There is a significant gap between the number of athletes who say they use PEDs and the number actually caught in testing. Rather than continue on that path, why not bring all use out into the open, and champion those drugs to test the boundaries of human performance and help counter the effects of aging? 

“The Enhanced Games is renovating the Olympic model for the 21st century,” said Aron D’Souza, Enhanced Games president. “In the era of accelerating technological and scientific change, the world needs a sporting event that embraces the future, particularly advances in medical science.”

The effort will feature competition in combat sports, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, and weightlifting. But serious questions persist. Like any other start-up sports league, the Enhanced Games will be entering an already-crowded market for fans’ time and attention. The business plan calls for competing at Division I college facilities, as opposed to building new infrastructure.

Most directly, though, the Enhanced Games will be challenging both existing laws around drug use, as well as cultural standards that govern much of sports. Before the funding, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart told CNN he found the Enhanced Games to be “farcical … likely illegal in many states,” and “a dangerous clown show, not real sport.”

Notably, the Enhanced Games’ announcement of its seed funding round arrives just days after the Court of Arbitration for Sport found Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva guilty of doping.

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