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Drugs in sport debate: Opposers response 2

[This is the last of the formal responses in the debate – both debaters will post closing comments at the end of the week. Don't forget to vote next week!]

by John William Devine

Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ that never was in England’s World Cup defeat to Germany yesterday is an example of sport being held to ransom by tradition. The use of video technology – as used in elite level tennis and rugby – would have confirmed that his shot had crossed the line and England would have been awarded an equalising goal. FIFA continues to block the introduction of this technology on the grounds that human error in refereeing is part of the game. Does the prohibition against doping similarly stifle progress in sport?

In his comment on June 15th, Bennett Foddy suggested that my balance of excellences argument against doping might be ‘conservatism reframed’? He contends that on my view, outmoded excellences would be protected by a concern to remain consistent with the traditional balance of excellences in a sport.

That a particular balance of excellences obtains in a sport at a given time does not preclude change to that sport’s balance of excellences. As the understanding and practice of that sport develops, those involved in the sport can come to view the excellences relevant to that sport differently. For instance, the greats of a sport often shape our understanding of what excellences are important. Dick Fosbury in the high jump, Pele in football and Brian O’Driscoll in rugby all not only performed existing excellences to a higher degree than their competitors but they employed novel strategies and techniques to redefine the boundaries of how the sport might be played. The balance of excellence argument does not call for a once and for all account of the purpose of a sport. To remain sensitive to change in our understanding of the purpose of a sport, the dialogue concerning the balance of excellences must be ongoing.

Julian has argued that doping might improve the spectacle of sport. It’s true that we care about sport not only for the outcome of competition but also for aesthetic reasons. Usain Bolt’s explosion down the track, Cristiano Ronaldo’s mesmeric trickery with a football, or Roger Federer’s almost balletic strike of the tennis ball illustrate how sport can provide a compelling spectacle independent of competition.
Sport might be the greatest show on earth but its greatness relies in large part on its being our show – a showcase of human will, intellect and physicality. The introduction of doping would bring to the fore the excellences of the pharmacist but these are not sporting excellences. As the contribution of doping to the athlete’s performance increases, our admiration of their performance as a display of their excellences diminishes. Our concern should be in creating spectacles that showcase human excellence of the relevant kinds. While drug-fueled competition may create a more attractive show, such a show is unlikely to constitute a sporting spectacle. A concern for making sport about entertainment risks undermining that which makes sport a worthwhile endeavour.

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