Space Jam, Doping, & Placebos

I recently re-watched one of my favourite 90s, half-cartoon, sports movies, Space Jam. I’m sure I don’t need to recount the plot of Michael Jordan being sucked into the Looney Tunes universe in order to help them win a basketball game so that they can avoid becoming slaves. It is one of the all time classics after all. But one particular scene really stuck out to me, in the scene Bugs Bunny implies that a bottle of water, which he labels ‘Michael Jordan’s secret stuff’, has performance-enhancing qualities. The rest of the team eagerly drink the special formula in order to improve their performance (which it does for a time).

Michaels secret stuff

This raises a host of questions around the attitude towards steroid use in the Looney Tunes universe and in Michael Jordan’s career. But that is not what I want to discuss today. What I find more interesting is the role of placebos in performance enhancement. This 2007 study  found that placebos could have a performance-enhancing effect on athletes. The study concerned consisted of athletes taking morphine in the weeks leading up to competition then taking a placebo on the day of competition would had morphine-like effects on those involved (a greater pain tolerance is something that would prove useful in a variety of sports). As the article points out this does not violate any anti-doping rules, but should it?  Continue reading

Challenging negative attitudes toward tax-payer funded sport

Sport is supposed to be fun, even sport at the highest level.

Sport is supposed to be fun, even sport at the highest level.

With the Winter Olympics now finished I thought I would turn my attention to something that seems to get brought up (at least it New Zealand) at the end of every Olympic cycle: whether the tax payers are getting their money’s worth for the investment into athletes. Sochi saw New Zealand send it’s largest ever contingent to a Winter Games with fifteen competitors competing across five sports. Unfortunately we failed to win a medal, with Jossi Wells’ fourth being our highest finisher. This lack of return along with the perceived poor attitudes of some athletes saw the the even labelled in some quarters as ‘an expensive ski holiday’. So I thought I would take it upon myself to look into just how much money was spent by the tax payers on Sochi, and then argue why spending tax payer dollars on the Winter Olympics shouldn’t bother you, even if you think it’s a waste of money. First some figures:

  • The total New Zealand tax revenue for 2012/2013 was $58.7billion dollars.
  • The total High Performance Sport New Zealand (HSPNZ) budget for 2013 was $60million, that works out to 0.1022147% of the years tax revenue.
  • The median individual income from salary and wages in New Zealand for 2013 was $43,888, tax paid on this income assuming no tax refund was claimed was $6,700.40. Making the median individual contribution to HPSNZ $6.85.
  • Winter Olympic funding in 2013 was $1.815million (dropping to $1.7million in 2014). So Winter Olympic funding was 0.003091993% of tax revenue in 2013. An individual earning the median income in New Zealand in 2013 contributed $0.21 to the winter olympics campaign.

At only 21 cents for the entertainment and emotions I got to experience watching the Winter Olympics I feel like I got my money’s worth. This is likely where some people may start to complain that this is still much and that they shouldn’t have to shoulder such a  burden for something they didn’t watch and don’t care about, so this is where I will argue that this shouldn’t be a problem. Continue reading

Different limbs = Different sports: Why amputees should not compete against able-bodied competitors at the Olympic Games

Alan Oliveira defeats OScar Pistorius in the 2012 T43/44 Paralympic 200m final

Alan Oliveira defeats OScar Pistorius in the 2012 T43/44 Paralympic 200m final

From 27 July until 12 August 2012 the games of the 30th Olympiad took place in London. The 4 August was a particularly special day. On this day Oscar Pistorius became the first athlete to compete at the Olympic Games while running on prosthetic limbs. Pistorius is a double below the knee amputee (T43 under the Paralympic classification system) who runs on J-shaped carbon fibre blades. He represented a fusion of humanity and technology that will become an increasingly pressing issue for the sporting arena in coming years.

Pistorius is the only amputee in history to have run at an Olympic Games. He is also a pioneer. Like all pioneers he lead the way for others to follow. The next paralympian who looks capable of running at the Olympics goes by the name of Alan Oliveira. He is a Brazilian who garnered attention when he dealt Pistorius his first ever defeat in the 200m at the 2012 Paralympic Games leading to Pistorius, somewhat ironically, questioning the legitimacy of Oliveira’s prostheses. In July 2013 Oliveira ran 20.66 seconds over 200m, taking 0.64 seconds of the previous world record time. Running 0.64 seconds under a world record time is an impressive achievement in an event that is traditionally decided by fine margins. It is also 0.01 second outside of the Olympic B qualifying time, and there is ample time until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to improve on this. Furthermore, Oliveira is only twenty years old, given that sprinters often peak in their mid-to-late twenties it seems that there is a good chance he will surpass Pistorius’ achievements in able-bodied, and Paralympic sport. For the purposes’ of this paper, Oliveira importantly shows that Pistorius is not a once in a lifetime athlete; there are others who are as good as, if not better than him.

In this paper, using Oliveira and Pistorius as a case study, I will build on the arguments made by other philosophers with regards to Pistorius: arguments that question whether amputee athletes are doing the same thing as able-bodied athletes when they compete. I will argue that, under current the current system for measuring performance, the reliance of amputee athletes on exploiting technical aids means that what they are doing when they run is not comparable to what able-bodied athletes do when they run. Given that sport is designed to compare the ability of athletes to perform particular skills, the fact that able-bodied athletes and amputee athletes are displaying different skills when they run means that they should not be measured against each in the same competition.

I will then apply the same reasoning to argue that single and double-amputee athletes should not compete against each other at the Paralympic Games. Rather than concluding that the only reasonable course of action is to separate these different categories of athletes, I will offer an alternative solution: change the method of measuring performance. I will suggest that, by adapting a scoring system already used in some Paralympic swimming events, otherwise incomparable performances can be measured against each other. Such a system, whereby athletes are measured against the world record time in their particular category, rather than the traditional first-past-the-post system, would allow top amputee athletes to fairly compete against each other. Continue reading

Why cycling has more credibility than most sports

I’ve read a few articles over the last week or so talking about how cycling no longer has any credibility left. Performances which used to be celebrated can no longer be trusted. Whilst I understand these sentiments, I find myself viewing those participating in le Tour with more faith than I do in other top sports.

In 1998 the Festina scandal started a long process of cycling airing it's doping laundry in public. Other top sports need to do the same thing.

In 1998 the Festina scandal started a long process of cycling airing it’s doping laundry in public. Other top sports need to do the same thing.

Cycling has a very public history of doping, the late 90s and early 2000s will remain tarnished. But the fact that doping is even part of the public discussion is part of why I am less cynical about cycling than I am about the likes of football and tennis. The many high-profile doping cases has meant that cycling’s anti-doping programme is one of the most thorough in the world. I’m not naive enough to think that a good anti-doping programme means no dopers. Testers will forever be behind those developing performance-enhancing drugs. But there appears to have been a real effort made to clean up the sport. Certainly it could go further, it’s worrying that those in charge of the UCI are some of the same people accused of turning a blind eye to rampant doping a decade ago. There is also the fact that people like Bjarne Riis, who doped, and ran doping teams, in the past is still allowed to own and manage a team competing. But all cyclists know that they are under a cloud. It clearly pisses them off, you only need to see Chris Froome’s reaction to being asked about doping after his win on Mont Ventoux to know that. His reaction is understandable, particularly when you look at Team Sky’s concerted effort to be a clean team, refusing to have anyone on their staff who has been associated with doping in the past. That’s not to say Froome could be doping on his own accord (or that Sky are just as full of lies as US Postal were), but it’s exactly the questions people should be asking, not just in cycling, but in all sports.  Continue reading

Are steroids the solution to gender equality in sport?

After reading a blog post which argued in favour of gun rights for women on the basis that most women are unable to physically overpower a man attacking them, I started wondering if a similar argument could be applied to steroid use in sport. When I discuss the merits of women’s sport with friends the same argument inevitably surfaces: why would I bother watching women’s sport when I could watch men’s sport? Men can go faster, higher, and are stronger. Such an argument implies that if female atheltes were able to physically compete at the same standards as male athletes then women’s sport would become more popular. We have the tools do close this gap in physical prowess so why not use them. These tools are not guns, but performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Allowing female athletes to use PEDs whilst continuing to enforce a strict prohibition against their male counterparts using such substances would not only allow women to get closer to male athletes but may see the dawn of mixed gender teams in otherwise male dominated leagues.

Use of performance enhancing drugs is nothing new in women's sport

Use of performance enhancing drugs is nothing new in women’s sport

Continue reading

How to raise the profile of women’s sport

One of the iconic images in women's football, Brandi Chastain wins the first women's World Cup

One of the iconic images in women’s football, Brandi Chastain wins the first women’s World Cup

After reading a recent article about the lack of women’s sport coverage I started to think how the profile of women’s sport could be improved. There have been several admirable suggestions from noble sporting bodies about how this might be achieved, but I can’t help but think that tighter shorts can only do so much to promote gender equality. In this post I will use football as an example as it is the most popular sport in the world, so realistically should be the easiest to grow. But there’s no reason my suggestions cannot be applied to other sports.

The popularity of women’s football has fluctuated over the last century. In the early 1900s crowds of as much as 50,000 people turned up to watch women’s domestic football in England before the FA decided to ban women from using their grounds in 1921, a ban that lasted 50 years. The recent World Cup in Germany saw crowds of 70,000 turn up to watch the host nation, and women’s football at the Olympics saw healthy crowds. Yet attempts to establish professional leagues consistently fail around the world. Arsenal Ladies, who dominate the English game only train twice a week.

The problem facing most sports is that the product produced by men will be superior to the product produced by women due to physiology. Men are able to go faster, higher, and stronger. But marketing plays a huge role in the popularity of sports. The English Premier League is arguably the most watched league in the world due to it’s ability to market itself, as opposed to it having more entertaining matches than, for example, the Bundesliga. If FIFA genuinely want to increase the profile and popularity of the women’s game then I think they need to consider taking a leaf out of tennis’ book. The four major tennis tournaments (Wimbledon, the Australian, French, and US Opens) are held each year with men and women competing simultaneously. Men are better tennis players than women, but the disparity in viewing figures is far smaller than the disparity in viewing figures in other sports. Integrated or simultaneous tournaments give exposure to women’s sports that no amount of marketing can. Rather than the viewing public being required to seek something out that they wouldn’t usually watch, it is presented to them as part of something that they would be watching anyway. In the case of the World Cup this means the most watched sporting event in the world outside of the Olympics (where women’s sport, as well us other low profile sports, get a boost from an integrated event).  Continue reading

Are mountain climbers morally obliged to save each other?

Two Polish climbers are missing presumed dead after making the first ever winter ascent of the 12th highest mountain in the Himalayas called Broad Peak, the expedition leader says. Tomasz Kowalski, 27, and Maciej Berbeka, 51, were among four Poles who summited the 8,051 metre peak. Climbers dying above 8,000 metres, in what is often referred to as the death zone is a common occurrence. Whilst Kowalski and Berbeka went missing without a trace, it is often the case that  climbers will collapse in plain sight of others who continue on without attempting to help them. In this post I will investigate to what extent, if any, does the  death zone change what one person is entitled to expect from another?

One of hundreds of dead bodies that litter the slopes of Mt. Everest

One of hundreds of dead bodies that litter the slopes of Mt. Everest

On the 15th of May 2006 a 34 year old Englishman named David Sharp sat dying, during the last few hours of his life as many as forty people walked past him without helping him to safety or making any great attempt to save his life. Controversy followed his death as people who heard the story of Sharp’s demise found it difficult to fathom how people could be so cold towards another human, perhaps  imagining that they would have done differently in the same situation. However, Sharp didn’t merely lie dying on the corner of a quiet suburban street, he was over 8000m above sea level, a few hundred meters from the summit of the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest. When you’re above 8000m you are in what climbers refer to as the death zone as at this altitude the oxygen in the atmosphere isn’t plentiful enough to sustain life. In this essay I will investigate whether or not being in the death zone changes what one person is entitled to expect from another person. I will start by looking into the case of David Sharp and whether the inaction of his fellow climbers was morally permissible, I will then assess what we can expect from another person in a normal situation; specifically from the point of view of Kantianism and will then apply the situation David Sharp was in to the Kantian view of morality.  I will end by concluding that a person cannot be expected to risk their own life in pursuit of saving another. Continue reading

Would allowing drugs in sport level the playing field?

He never failed a test

He never failed a test

So it has finally happened. Lance Armstrong has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles. In the wake of the USADA report and his interview with Oprah there are still many who have defended Armstrong. These defenders don’t suggest that he didn’t dope, they tend to put forward the argument that everyone else was doping so there was a level playing field and he was just the best of the dopers.

While it probably isn’t true that everyone was doping in the Tour between 1999 and 2005, the fact that Armstrong’s titles haven’t been awarded to any other riders is certainly indicative of how difficult it would be to find an untainted rider from that period. However, it is wrong to think that everyone doping equals an equal playing field. Just because everyone was using performance enhancing drugs does not mean that everyone was using the same performance enhancing drugs, or that those drugs effected everyone in the same way.

Continue reading

Should Oscar Pistorus be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games?

Pistorius and Cheetah small

2012 was a big year for sport, and by extension sporting controversy. This meant that there was plenty to write about during the first year of this blog. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to post as often or as in-depth as I would have liked as I was busy writing my Masters Thesis, which shares the title of this post. Below is the abstract for my thesis, which can be found in its entirety in the Essays section, or by following this link.

On the 4th of August 2012 South African runner Oscar Pistorius became the first athlete to compete at the Olympic Games while running on prosthetic limbs. Pistorius is a double below the knee amputee who runs on carbon J-shaped fibre blades. He represents a fusion of humanity and technology that will become an increasingly pressing issue for the sporting arena in the coming years. In this essay I use Pistorius as a case study to investigate how decisions regarding the use of enhancement technologies in sport should be made.

I argue that the key characteristic that should be assessed is whether Pistorius’ prosthetic legs mean that he is competing in a different sport to able-bodied athletes when he runs. I contend that the best method for deciding whether or not Pistorius is competing in the same sport as able-bodied athletes is to adopt a balance of excellences view of sport (Devine, 2010). I use this model to show that the excellence of exploiting technical aids is far more important for Pistorius than it is for his able-bodied counterparts. From this I conclude that what Pistorius does when he runs is not comparable to able-bodied runners. Thus he should not be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games.

Diving, Football, and the Laws of the Game

I’ve written previously on the ethics of diving, this post is not so much about ethical issues as it is about the way the laws of football are enforced when it comes to penalising/rewarding diving. In fact this post arguably doesn’t have much place in an ethics blog. However as it is about how the most popular sport in the world can be improved and bring a greater happiness to all who watch and participate in it, whilst preserving the integrity of the sport I will shoehorn it in (also I’ve not posted anything in a long time, luckily for me nothing ethically contentious has happened in sport since my last post). In this post I will argue that contact with a defender shouldn’t prevent referees from punishing players for diving, I will then look at whether or not contact should that is often punished should be considered a foul when based on the Laws of the Game.

Diving is nothing new in the game, but what sparked my recent reflection on it was this incident between my beloved Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United a few weeks ago (skip to 1:09 for the incident):

Continue reading