Friday, August 29, 2008

LPGA and the English language

There is a very interesting and disturbing post over at Public Reason, dealing with a new English language requirement for LPGA players.

The demand that players speak English is wrong for a variety of reasons, I think, but it also uncovers something interesting for philosophers of sport. How important is it that a sport be entertaining? And why should the external goods of sponsorship and money determine who can participate in elite sport, regardless of their level of talent?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Silence in the Stands, or, Anyone for a Record?

The Olympic swimming events aren’t even over, and I can’t wait for the stats. It seems everyone and his frog (sorry :-) is breaking a record these days. I wrote a while back about Speedo’s LZR swimming suit…you know, the one which is more of a performance enhancer than most drugs? The men’s 4 X 100m freestyle relay was a great illustration of the phenomenal achievements in swimsuit design typified by the LZR. From the online media:

“The Americans shattered the world record set by their ''B'' team the previous evening in the preliminaries, touching with a time of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds - nearly 4 full seconds below the 15-hour-old mark. Bernard was the world record holder in the 100, but he surrendered that mark as well. Australia's Eamon Sullivan broke the individual record by swimming the leadoff leg in 47.24 - ahead of Bernard's mark of 47.50. Lezak swam his 100 in a staggering 46.06, the fastest relay leg in history, though it doesn't count as an official record.”

Jason Lezak’s swim was awesome, regardless of what he was wearing. But why are these records tumbling so easily? If it isn’t drugs, it can really only be technology. I refuse to believe that refinements in training regimes and swimming techniques are responsible for such drastic reductions in record times. How much then do these records really mean? Just where are the IOC/WADA watchdogs, and why aren’t they barking?

Friday, August 8, 2008

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference

See this link for information about the conference, including the program. Several contributors to this blog are presenting papers. It looks to be an outstanding conference, so if you're in Japan, check it out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Changing the minds of athletes who cheat

The New Scientist this week (30 July 2008) contains an article with the sub-title, ‘Finding out why some competitors take drugs while others stay clean may be the key to deterring doping’.

As the figures suggest that testing does not deter athletes from cheating, Andrea Petroczi’s (Kingston University) recommendation is that the way to stop doping is to focus upon the psychological reasons why athletes take illegal supplements. This, she argues, is due to an athlete’s belief that s/he is unable to compete without taking these supplements: it is not the fact that athletes are attracted to such supplements because they are illegal, nor do they generally consider consequences on their health, but rather because of their drive to win and their belief that such supplements will aid them in this quest. Petroczi suggests that coaches should therefore work on psychological techniques to change this attitude from one which promotes winning at any cost, to one that encourages a 'mastery' of their chosen sport.

When the lure of big-time success in sport is driven by a competitive attitude towards others, it isn’t surprising that some athletes will do whatever they believe it takes (from training on Christmas Day to taking the latest flashy-marketed nutritional supplement to illegal methods). Those in favour of this psychological intervention, such as Smoll and Smith, from the University of Washington, maintain that performance would not necessarily be adversely affected with a change in attitude, although they do concede that it is difficult to gather the evidence to support this due to the reluctance of elite level coaches to change their methods. Yet even if were able to justify such psychological intervention from an ethical standpoint, I doubt that it would not have an effect on elite-level sport; arguably sport as we know it today is only that because of the mindset athletes’ have. If we take away that attitude then we may well be changing the nature of sport.

The New Scientist article touches upon many of the perennial questions surrounding the issue of doping in sport (which I haven’t covered in this contribution), but it also raises a new one, in what effect would a change in athletes’ attitude have on the nature of elite sport? I'm not suggesting that even if it were possible to change the attitude of every athlete in the world that it would have an adverse effect on top-level sport, but merely disagreeing with the presumption that performances, and therefore elite sport, wouldn’t be affected.

If Petroczi and others are correct in their view that doping can only be eradicated through a change of attitude, then we might need to accept that elite level sport would no longer be as we currently know it. It is either that, or change our attitude towards doping, which might be easier… but then that’s another debate to be had.