Monday, March 23, 2009

Tough questions and painful answers; ethical reasoning in sport

What is the difference between circus acrobats and gymnasts when the skill is in focus? Both practices require specific bodily skills, extreme physical strength and flexibility. But in circus we do not question ethics. It is a performance, a spectacle where we never think of young children training hours daily, devoting their life to work in circus, and travelling around the globe for the glory of their family tradition. Do they have an option of open future, if all they know is circus? Do we know how many injuries happened behind the scene? No, we don’t question circus in this manner. But, why do we do so in sport? What is the rationale behind the sport that does not allow us to consider it solely aesthetically? These seem to be the questions we should consider more precisely when considering sport ethics.

The passions, the bestiality, the drives that are controlling the sport at its top are by definition out of command and domestication. We have witnessed many athletes talking about the flow, about collision with the activity itself where one merges with the whole, with no time and place for reflection. We are witnessing the record breaking time and again; we are witnessing what seems to be impossible to happen at the moment. Setting the limit is the key for Aristotelian ethics of proper measure, but going over the edge is the key for excess. It is over the edge where comfort turns to pleasure and pain, which only chosen heroic people are willing to bear. It is the passage from comfort to excessiveness where the mutation of ethics takes place. It turns towards the ethics of law, towards the ethics of maximum, which universalizes what Aristotle regards as an exception; anyone has capacity to realize impossible. How does this position our metaethical grounding?

Finally, not only in sport, isn't the same going on in society at large? Isn't the neoliberal 'credit' society exactly what ethics of maximum is demanding from us?  Facing the global socio-ecological crisis, do we have the courage to admit our wrongs and change not only the world outlook but our daily habits as well? Should we wait for the critical mass to appear and force us into change, or should we act upon it progressively? What can we learn from sport, to protect our failure as human beings? 


Milan Hosta

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