text by Sara Gross

Between the Russians, the Kenyans and multiple allegations lobbied at coaches, doctors and teams, why do we feel so affronted by the depth and breadth of the doping problem in sport?

What is the connection between Sport and Ethics?

Sport is controlled play arbitrated by a set of rules upon which we agree to abide. Run from this line to that line and whoever gets there first wins. Jump the highest or furthest. If the ball goes past the line, it’s out. Sport is governed by a simple and somewhat random collection of rules that allow us to play.

Most of the rules of play do not carry great import, we simply learn them and follow them.

Ethics are moral principles that govern our behaviour. Another somewhat arbitrary set of rules, but this time created to ensure civility, protect individuals and maintain society. Do not hurt others, be kind to those who are less privileged, lead your children by example. Some of these rules become laws and severe penalties are incurred if they are not followed.

The rules of ethics have much greater import then the rules of sport. Treating others fairly is ultimately more important then whether your hand touched the ball or where the free throw line is.

In sport, some rules have ethical import. Don’t cut the course and, whatever you do, do not take performance enhancing drugs. It is mind boggling that some athletes are willing to abide by a set of meaningless (and at times ridiculous) rules of the game, yet are not willing to follow the most important rules, the ones with ethical implications.

The Olympic movement is both the beauty and the beast of capitalism and nationalism, and winning and losing have consequences well beyond the athlete and the game. But still.

Looking at sport in its purest form, doping seems very foolish indeed. Sport is a giant playground for grownups. Would you spike your kid’s lucky charms so she can win the monkey bars?

On one hand, an athlete who dopes agrees to play a game, or run a race, that is governed by a bunch of silly, meaningless rules followed to the letter. On the other hand, the same athlete is willing to take banned substances at great risk to their reputations, their health and their country’s pride.

Is there not something utterly ridiculous about that?

Its much like sneaking out the night before the big race and painting a line on the track at the 78m mark then calling yourself the winner the next day because you were the first one across your self-made line when your competitors charged on to the 100m-mark. Or say, changing the goal posts just as the ball is kicked to make sure it goes in. Or suddenly putting an extra player on the field, but only on your team. It’s just not sport.

Without the rules of the game, sport would fail to exist. Athletes who dope are aren’t just cheating. They aren’t even playing the game.

 

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