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Conceptual Problems with Performance Enhancing Technology in Sport

  • Emily Ryall (a1)

The majority of – usually moral – problems inherent in elite sport, such as whether athletes should be able to take particular drugs, wear particular clothing, or utilise particular tools, arguably stem from a conceptual one based on faulty logic and competing values. Sport is a human enterprise that represents a multitude of human compulsions, desires and needs; the urge to be competitive, to co-operate, to excel, to develop, to play, to love and be loved, and to find meaning in one's existence. From the perspective of an amateur athlete, this pluralism is possible. When one is involved in athletics at the lower echelons, the values that one holds in relation to sport are fluid and flexible; they are prioritised according to a myriad of other influences that are contingent to a particular situation. As such, the reasons that the general population participate in athletic activities and the values they consequently ascribe to it are complex and wide-ranging and thus fall into the sociological realm. The philosophical problem with value in sport is found at the highest level, the professional platform, where discordant values are espoused, particularly the value of ever increasing quantifiable performance. The athletic events at the Olympic Games are the archetypal manifestation of this Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger) aphorism and yet when taken to its logical conclusion becomes evidently absurd.

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1 Butryn, Ted, ‘Cyborg Horizons: Sport and the Ethics of Self-Technologization’ in Miah, A. & Eassom, S. (eds) Sport Technology: History, Philosophy and Policy. Research in Philosophy and Technology, 21, (Series Ed: Carl Mitcham) (Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd, 2002) 117.

2 Haraway, Donna, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. (New York: Routledge, 1991) 149181.

3 Kurzweil, Raymond. The Singularity is Near (London: Penguin, 2006)

4 This is demonstrated by Bernard Suits (1978) in his conception of utopia which argues game-playing as the ideal of existence.

5 ‘technology’ in the Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Gloucestershire. 10 July 2012 <>

6 ‘technology’ in the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. by Julia Cresswell. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Gloucestershire. 5 October 2010 <>

7 ‘technology’ in the Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Craig Calhoun, (ed.) Oxford University Press, 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Gloucestershire. 5 October 2010 <>

8 Heidegger actually calls the way we conceive and relate to the world ‘enframing’ but the term ‘technological attitude’ is a helpful indication of what this means. Heidegger, Martin, (trans. & intro. Lovitt, William). The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper Row, 1977) 12.

9 Heidegger, Martin, (translated by Gray, J.Glenn and Wieck, F.) What is Called Thinking? (New York: Harper and Row, 1968) 5.

10 Kaku, M., Physics of the Future: How science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by 2100. (New York: Doubleday, 2011) 22.

11 Kurzweil, Raymond. The Singularity is Near, (London: Penguin, 2006) 11.

12 Suits, Bernard, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978) 41.

13 Sailors, Pam, ‘More than a pair of running shoesJournal of the Philosophy of Sport 36 (2009), 207126.

14 Robbins, Liz, A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York. (New York: HarperCollins 2008) 140141.

15 Nisbet, Robert, History of the Idea of Progress (New Jersey: Transaction, 1994)

16 Loland, Sigmund, ‘The Logic of Progress and the Art of Moderation in Competitive Sports’ in Values in Sport, Tannjo, C. and Tamburrini, C. (eds) (London: E & FN Spon, 2000) 42.

17 Op. cit. note xvi, 43–44.

18 This practice entails the blood being removed from the body to be reinserted at a later date once the body has replenished its lost blood cells. The effect is an increased number of red blood cells which then are able to hold an increased amount of oxygen.

19 Hakimi, P., Yang, J., Casadesus, G., G. et al. ‘Overexpression of the Cytosolic Form of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (GTP) in Skeletal Muscle Repatterns Energy Metabolism in the Mouse’, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 282 (2007) 3284432855.

20 WADA Press Release. ‘Wada Conference Sheds Light On The Potential Of Gene Doping’ 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland, 20th March 2002.

21 The fears manifested in such language are explored more in Ryall, EmilyThe language of genetic technology: metaphor and media representation’, Continuum, 22 (3) (2008). 363373.

22 IAAF ruling 144.2 It has since been further amended to ‘the use of any technology or appliance that provides the user with an advantage which he would not have obtained using the equipment specified in the Rules.’

23 Arbitration CAS 2008/A/1480 Pistorius v/ IAAF, award of 16 May 2008. 7. <> July 2012.

24 Op. cit. note xxiii. 8

25 Jones, Carwyn and Wilson, CassieDefining advantage and athletic performance: The case of Oscar Pistorius’, European Journal of Sports Science 9(2) 2009. 125131.

Jones, CarwynOscar Pistorius, the Paralympics and issues of fair competition’ in Lampman, D. & Prettyman, S. Spickard (eds), Learning culture through sport (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education 2011)

26 Van Hilvoorde, I. and Landeweerd, L.Disability or extraordinary talent: Francesco Lentini (three legs) versus Oscar Pistorius (no legs)’, Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 2 (2008) 97111.

27 Edwards, S. D.Should Oscar Pistorius be excluded from the 2008 Olympic Games?Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 2 (2008) 112114.

28 Lenk, C., ‘Is enhancement in sport really unfair? Arguments on the concept of competition and equality of opportunitiesSport, Ethics and Philosophy, 1 2007. 218228.

29 Crincoli, S. M., ‘You Can Only Race if You Can't Win? The Curious Cases of Oscar Pistorius & Caster SemenyaTexas Review of Entertainment and Sports Law 12 (2) (2011) 133188.

30 Whether the faster pitching action is a result of the surgery itself or attention to a reconditioning programme and other factors is disputed.

31 Suits maintained that sport was a sub-set of game-playing but with the additional criteria of physical skill and stability (to set it apart from ‘fads’ or ‘crazes’ such as hula-hoop).

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