Julian Savulescu brings an interesting and characteristically uncompromising philosophical perspective today to the Badminton scandal in which four pairs were disqualified from the Olympics for intending to lose their matches in order to obtain a preferred draw in the next round. The players were ejected for violating parts of the Players’ Code of Conduct that is set by the governing body of the sport: the Badminton World Federation (BWF). In particular, they were found to have violated sections 4.5 and 4.16 of the Code, which respectively prohibit “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”
Savulescu argues that the players should not have been disqualified, and that the rules for the draw should be changed. He is right the rules for the draw should be changed: they should be designed so that winning a match always confers on the players some advantage in the tournament, or at least never a disadvantage. Why not, for example, simply let the most successful teams choose first who they will face in the next round? One questionable feature of this week’s events is that the badly formulated rules for the format of the draw were instituted by the BWF. So the BWF, acting as legislator, judge and jury on the conduct of the players, itself had a vested interest in shifting the blame for the fiasco of non-competitive games onto the players themselves.
Still, it is reasonable to ask whether it would have been right for a properly impartial judging body to disqualify the players in this case. Savulescu’s post suggests, as far as I can see, four arguments against:
A) The players were using a strategy to win the tournament, and logically, a strategy cannot be abusive or detrimental to the sport.
B) The rules are not clear.
C) The rules are absurd.
D) The rules depend on a distinction between intending and foreseeing which is philosophically unsustainable.
So let’s assess these four arguments.
I was emailed by a journalist yesterday from Bloomberg for a comment on the Badminton expulsion scandal. Several teams have been expelled for deliberately losing to gain better places in the draw to increase their chances of winning.
Here is the story that came out in Bloomberg
Here is the actual quote I sent the journalist:
“The players were ejected for violating the Players’ Code of Conduct, Sections 4.5 and 4.6, for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”
However, many competitors fail for various psychological reasons to use their best efforts to win a match. Having a temper tantrum is hardly using your best efforts. And since when is strategy abusive to sport. If there is a problem, then the rules for the draw should be changed. This is typical of the puritanical moralism that is infecting sport. First it was a war on performance enhancement because it was against the spirit of sport – nonsense, it is the spirit of sport. Now we see the same moralists trying to define a good sport and enforce some anachronistic account of the spirit of sport. Boo them by all means, but don’t disqualify them if they have not broken clear rules. This kind of subjective code of conduct belongs to Victorian times. It is absurd to have a rule that you have to try to win in competitive sport. It’s like having a law that you have to try to love someone in a marriage. Of course you should do it, but it’s absurd to have rules that require it. You can get dropped from the team, or booed, or divorced, for not trying hard enough – but this is not the place for these kinds of rules or laws.”
One thing I did not write was that there is another philosophical diagnosis of this scandal. That is, attachment on the part of Olympic officials to the so-called “intention-foresight” distinction that also grounds the famous Catholic Doctrine of Double Effect. According to the intention-foresight distinction, there is a moral distinction between the effects of our actions that we intend and those that we foresee, but don’t directly intend.
When I zapped into the Olympics opening ceremony on Saturday, I had the doubtful pleasure to see the German sportspeople entering the stadium in ridiculously gendered jackets – pink for the girls, light blue for the boys. This renewed an admittedly rather old question in my mind: Should men and women be segregated in professional sports?
There are some mixed-gender sports, like Equestrian. Many others, however, ranging from Boxing and Football to Golf, Bowling, and Pool Billiard are gender-segregated at a professional level.
Different arguments are mentioned for why men and women should be segregated in sports. These range from pub debate level (“I would not be able to concentrate if my opponents were girls in such tight tricots”) to more complicated matters (“Forcing men and women together excludes people whose religious views prohibit having mixed-gender competitions”). However, in every case the main argument seems to be: Due to physical differences, women cannot compete with men in sports.
By Julian Savulescu and Bennett Foddy
The anti-doping witch hunt being perpetrated by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is ruining cycling. There is a simple solution: an amnesty for dopers and relax anti-doping laws.
The Story So Far
Lance Armstrong has accused the USADA of running a vendetta amidst claims from a Dutch newspaper that 4 former team mates are witnesses against him, all of whom are riding in this year’s Tour de France. Speculation on what was offered to these riders in exchange from their testimony has focussed on a six month ban, delayed until after the Tour de France, though this has been denied. USADA has refused to name any of the 10 witnesses. Lance Armstrong, in a tweet, has labelled the anonymity and immunity offered in exchange for testimony against him as ‘selective prosecution’ and a ‘vendetta’.
Armstrong stands accused of doping violations between 1998 and 2005, and, if found guilty, will face losing all his seven wins, with accusations including the use of EPO, blood transfusions and steroids, following his treatment for cancer and throughout his Tour de France wins. His former team mates Hincapie, Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Zabriskie did not stand for consideration for the United States Olympic team. A two year federal investigation resulted in no charges filed and Armstrong has not failed any drug tests but has been dogged by rumours and accusations for many years.
The fact is though that every winner of the Tour de France has been implicated in doping since Miguel Indurain, except Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck.
FIFA want referees to be tested for drugs: delegates at FIFA’s medical congress were told by FIFA officers that referees in the future might be tested for doping. “We have to consider referees as part of the game,” said FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak. “We do not have an indication that this is a problem but this is something we have to look at. The referees are a neglected population.”
One might of course wonder whether this is typical extension of regulations beyond where they make sense, perhaps driven by Parkinsonian expansion of bureaucracy. If there has not been any indications of a problem, it doesn’t seem rational to try to solve it. To investigate whether there is an undetected problem in the first place and then try to solve it if there is one is rational, but starting out with banning doping in judges regardless of whether it matters sounds a bit like a “everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer” mindset from the anti-doping organisations.
Maybe some doping of referees might actually make the sport better?
Written by Roman Gaehwiler
Within research of happiness sports incorporates a scientifically approved instrument in order to fight mental depression. Therefore, the excretion of endorphines during physical exercise is capable to generate what a frog might experience when birth-rates decrease – pure delightment! Hence, frogs do not believe in princesses, but in storks.
Nevertheless, the general increase of average Body-Mass-Index (BMI) implies that many people tend to prefer the phlegmatic state of unhappiness and ignore the psychological effect of sports. As a matter of fact, in terms of public happiness in sports we might better take on an utilitaristic standpoint. Therefore, it might be legal to question our single-winner orientation like Hans Lenk used to in his piece „Dopium fürs Volk“ (Denkperlen 06, 2007 merus Verlag). With regard to the sporting performance of a marathon-runner for instance, thousands of participants experience rushes of satisfaction, although they did not perform world-record time. Consequently, it is not the athletic result which makes us happy or unhappy rather it is about the assessement. This might also be the reason why a bronze-medallist tend to be happier than his/her component at the other end of the podium. Additionally, targeting the maximation of happiness could be identified as „friends“, because in order to gain more individual happiness you have to share it. Friends are those people who like you, although, they know you. Applied to sports such derivation would suggest to engage in team-sports.
To come to a conclusion, it is easy to be happy, but it is hard to be easy. Some day in life you will be the pigeon and another one maybe the historical monument or statue. But, with the aid of sports you will learn to fly no matter what you are.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thanks a lot to Dr. med. Eckart von Hirschhausen for creative inspiration and essential insights.
References: Dr. med. Eckart von Hirschhausen; Glück kommt selten allein…, Rowohlt Verlag, Juni 2009
I am not a consequentialist, and so I am generally not prone to applying utility-maximization tests to every policy. Yet even I found my greatest-good-for-the-great-number buttons pressed by the news this week that the British government will invest £41million in opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics. This comes on top of £40m the organizers had already budgeted for the ceremonies – and over £1 billion the government expects to spend on security costs.
My initial impulse, for this post, was to play the contrarian and devise an argument to justify the additional £41m ceremony expenditure. I can see two almost-plausible arguments here. The first is a directly consequentialist sort: an extravagant, televised Olympics will attract future tourists to London, bringing revenue to the government and job-creation to its citizens. But this relies on a flimsy empirical assumption. Perhaps a fancy ceremony can create buzz for a city not yet widely visited (Barcelona seems to have done well in this sense, and perhaps Beijing will ultimately benefit from its 2008 extravaganza). But could this plausibly be true of London? There is much debate over whether the Olympics in their entirety will be a net economic gain for the UK. Setting that aside, the idea that an extra £41m on the ceremonies (amid a total Olympic budget close to £10billion) will make much positive difference seems exceedingly implausible. (There’s a helpful discussion of general Olympic funding issues here. )
A second almost-plausible argument has something to do with national pride. Like people everywhere, many British people find personal value in their connection to the nation, and to its public stature. Almost no one expects the London Olympics opening to rival that of Beijing, but surely it matters to many that the ceremony not be a threadbare embarrassment. Perhaps, then, the additional funds are justified. To the extent that national pride contributes to individual identities, and to the extent that this contribution is conducive to individual wellbeing, then even an additional £41m may be money well spent.
Perhaps. But the form of this argument invites comparisons. Are there other ways £41m could contribute to the welbeing of Britons? Perhaps by mitigating spending cuts? By undergirding social service programs? The pro argument here must be that the ceremony expenditure provides either a unique or an especially welfare-multiplying value for money. Is it the case that the national pride stirred by well-executed ceremonies would contribute substantially more to individual wellbeing than some other use of the funds? That seems unclear, at best.
Public expenditure debate has a tendency to trigger utility-calculating impulses, even in non-consequentialists like me. I happen to think that such impulses must often be constrained by certain non-consequentialist principles (call them deontological if you like). But it’s not clear to me that there is any such principle relevant to this case. Therefore, at a time when public sector pensions are being unwound and social services are being cut, it appears difficult to provide an ethical justification for such a large expense on such an ultimately unimportant thing. But perhaps I have missed something here. A question for readers: do you see any grounds, consequentialist or otherwise, to ethically justify the additional £41m of Olympic ceremony public spending?
Written by Roman Gaehwiler
In western communities the degree of gender equality and emancipation represents an important indicator to level sophistication and liberalism. In sports, however, sexual discrimination is taken for granted. As a result of strict sex segregation, there’s no opportunity for women to measure their abilities with male opponents. Consequently, either sport seems to lack social development or the emancipation of female athletes is not an issue worth considering. Tamburrini and Tännsjö declare this state as “strange” arguing as follows: “The best response to this argument may be to offer women the possibility of genetically becoming as strong as men”. In fact, this would mean to genetically alter the natural female hormone-balance in order to increase testosterone serum-concentration. Finally, that may result in transforming women into men rather than providing equality. In fact, such an act would undermine the ideology of emancipation and therefore foster the issue about gender distinction more acutely. Additionally, Susan Sherwin and Meredith Schwartz respond that “this solution misses the fact the problem of oppression for women is not that men are ‘naturally’ superior and women are struggling to ‘catch up’ to the male ideal.” Furthermore, the problem may have origin in the masculanization of society and “the construction what is ‘best’ reflects male talents, and those activities that are perceived as female are systematically undervalued.” Apparently, this discussion and the tolerance of gender distinction in sports prove the pleasant fact that the acceptance of natural differences and individual traits are still welcome, even in times of “levelling the playing field” and genetic enhancement debates. As a matter of fact, the nature of competitive sports is about the measurement of differences. Hence, when artificial performance enhancing substances tend to level the playing-field the existence of sexes is able to preserve some natural traits of competitive sports.
by Roman Gaehwiler
The crusade against artificial performance enhancement in sports is varicoloured and almost exhaustively debated. Nevertheless, there are still several approaches from the athlete’s perspective which are worth to consider. On the one hand, there is the noble and doubtlessly essential pedagogic approach fostering the educative aspect implying that the misapplication of pharmaceuticals and psychotropic drugs is medically and morally intolerable. In this respect, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency such behavior is also ment to represent a prohibitive action against the «ethos of sports». On the other hand, we probably have to reflect that ingesting specific pharmaceutical performance enhancers displays one possible interpretation of the «ethos of sports». Admittedly, this is a polarising thesis which may be highly challenging at first sight. However, the intrinsic motivation to do everything within your repertoire of opportunities in order to achieve your individual goals demonstrates a typical trait of the so-called ethos of sports. As a matter of fact, doing this during competition as a mean to improve your punctual ability to perform could be interpreted as a dubious performance enhancing practice. In contrast, it is believed that a significant part of athletes help themselves with banned substances exclusively in order to increase their amount of training. In this reference, sports(wo-)men inject peptidehormones such as erythropoietin (EPO) to extend their individual endurance training or ingest anabolic steroids to shorten the interval between the different training-sessions and improve recovery. Concerning this, it might be appropriate to re-evaluate the term «ethos of sports» within an anti-doping framework. On behalf of definition-oriented coherence athletes might meet this specific aspect of the ethos while taking performance enhancing substances for training purposes.
As a result : Indeed, athletes using performance enhancing substances may be (by definition) better sportsmen in the sense of the ethos of sports because they (are able to) train more in order to reach their goals compared to «clean» combatants.
However, another serious ethical issue emerges some steps further in the process. As a matter of fact, unphysiologically elevated training quantities result in musculo-skeletal detrition at least in the long-term perspective. Consequently, athletes get treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in order to fight the pain caused by chronic tissue-overstress. Unfortunately, NSAIDs do not imply any preventive characteristics. Hence, as long as the individual athlete is obliged to continue regular competitions tissue damage is going to aggravate silently. To come to a conclusion, in short notice official bodies engage intensively to keep up the athlete’s capacity in order to participate for the benefit of an entertaining sport event. As a consequence, while adhering to such kind of inconsistent anti-doping practice governing bodies indirectly encourage professional athletes to undergoe illegal artificial performance enhancement. Hence, solely fighting the symptoms is not equal to disease-eradication. Thus, merely antagonizing the outcome (-> pain due to overstress) is somehow close to diplomatic ignorance of a basic complex of problems (-> doping).
In an interesting article, “Why we’re the best”, Oliver Poole writing in the Evening Standard yesterday claims:
Culture, environment and genes are all cited as reasons for sporting success. But it is practice that really makes perfect.
He cites evidence that it not some genetic advantage that makes Kenyan runners so great but the fact that they run barefoot from an early age. Usain Bolt? It is not that he is biologically very different – his brilliant performances are apparently due to eating yams.
It is a mistake to draw the conclusion that genetic factors are not important in sporting performance from the fact that science has not so far identified genetic contributors to sporting performance. Our understanding of our own biology is exponentially increasing but still limited. We don’t know what most genes do or even really why humans age. How much of a sporting performance is the result of innate talent, mental determination or training is difficult to say.
It’s certainly true to be a good high jumper you have to train a lot at high jump. But you also have to be tall. And how tall you can be is limited by your personal biology. It may be that elite athletes could come from any country in the world, if only they had the specialized training to bring out the potential of their gifted citizens. But one of the myths of elite sport that many of us cherish is that anyone could be the best, if only he or she tried hard enough. That, I believe, is sadly not true.
Sporting performance is likely to be mixture of innate biological capacity, training and mental application. The opportunity to be the best, or even self-supporting professional, is likely to be open to a small minority. This drives some to take dangerous performance enhancing drugs or give up or be a spectator.
If we were concerned about human well-being, we would shift our concern from elite sport to making sport a part of culture and everyday life, like tai chi. We have become a culture of elite sportspeople, investors in sport, and unhealthy spectators. Sport should be fun, good for you, the opportunity to develop talents and social. And most of all, something which is really open to all. Elite sport is not.
A great sporting performance is a beautiful and admirable thing. But it is better to be a player than a spectator, in sport and in life.