Ethics of sport

It was still cold today, but a bit warmer and much less wet than yesterday. We ended up with just under 40 mm of rain, which is substantial for a single day. It didn’t rain at all today, but we may get some more showers later in the week.

I mainly worked on Darths & Droids today, until it was time to begin the new week of ethics classes. I’ve gone up to three classes on Wednesday evenings thanks to the demand, so I taught a total of ten students tonight. There was an interesting range of answers across several of the questions.

I started with the story of the adoption of long-handled putters by professional golfers in the 1980s, and how they helped golfers to putt more accurately. I asked questions about whether newly invented equipment should be allowed in sports, and most of the kids thought it was okay. Then I asked if everyone used the new gear, was it really the same sport? This was more polarising, as some kids said yes, while others thought that if the skills involved have changed, then it’s really a different thing. Then I asked if sports should evolve with new technologies, or if they should remain traditional, and most of them thought they retain the traditional form, but you could spawn off new sports using new gear.

Switching to the introduction of the full body swimsuits that competitive swimmers used from 2000-2008, I asked if it was fair for a swimmer (specifically Ian Thorpe at the 2000 Sydney Olympics) to use a newly invented swimsuit which none of the other swimmers had even seen before, and which helped his body slip through the water with less resistance. They mostly thought it was unfair, but not exactly cheating, as the rules at the time didn’t ban it. They thought it would be fair if all the swimmers could use the new suit.

Then I pointed out that the new suits actually made swimmers faster, as shown by the huge numbers of world records that were broken in those years. I asked if that was really fair, or should swimming by solely based on your muscles and skill? This got mixed responses, from kids who thought it was fine, to ones who thought you couldn’t really even call it swimming any more, if some technology was helping you swim faster. I asked them who should decide if such technology should be allowed, and what issues they should consider.

We moved into football, and Diego Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup. He handballed a goal, but the referee didn’t see it, and awarded the goal, and Argentina won the match. If the referee didn’t see it, was it cheating, or was it just a thing he did to try and win, and got away with it? Should professional athletes try to win at all costs? Should Maradona have admitted to the referee that he handballed, or should he have let the referee decide for himself?

Then I asked the kids to imagine they were playing tennis against a friend. There’s no umpire to spot foot faults, so they can creep forward and serve stronger without their friend noticing. If they knew they could get away with it, would they cheat to beat their friend? Most kids said no, but two of them said yes they probably would – because they would want to beat their friend to show off how good they were! That was interesting! I praised them for their honesty, in telling me, if not for their approach to sports. Then I asked them if they were professional athletes, would they cheat if they knew they could get away with it. This time a few more of them said they would – but interestingly one of the kids who said he’d cheat against his friend said he wouldn’t cheat if he was a pro – because it’d be on TV and everyone would know, and he’d get a bad reputation.

So… it was all very interesting! I have a follow-up topic planned for a few weeks later, on the topic of performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

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