Sport remains a glorious enterprise but major ethical questions abound

Falls far short of ideals where the essential was to have fought well not just winning

Former Roscommon star Karol Mannion courageously spoke out this summer about the serious after-effects of his two experiences of concussion on the GAA playing fields.  ©INPHO/James Crombie

Former Roscommon star Karol Mannion courageously spoke out this summer about the serious after-effects of his two experiences of concussion on the GAA playing fields. ©INPHO/James Crombie

 

Roscommon’s favourite son Chris O’Dowd has just hit the big screen as the star of a major new film The Program about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

The movie is a powerful reminder of the ugly scar drugs have cast over sport in recent years.

But drug cheats have not gone away you know. Last August the Sunday Times obtained access to the results of 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012.

According to the newspaper, the evidence reveals the “extraordinary extent of cheating” by athletes in the world’s biggest events.

They claimed that a third of medals (146, including 55 golds) in endurance events at the Olympics and World Championships in those years were won by athletes who had recorded suspicious tests.

The report claimed that not one of these athletes have been stripped of their medals.

More than 800 athletes – one in seven of those named in the files – have recorded blood tests described by one expert as “highly suggestive of doping, or at the very least abnormal”.

In some finals the three medal positions had recorded a suspicious blood test.

To reinforce the point, a few weeks later two prominent Kenyan athletes Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary tested positive for doping at the World Championships in Beijing.

Six top Jamaican athletes including Olympic medallists Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson and Tyson Gay, then the fastest man in the world, had previously tested positive for drugs. But drugs are not the only blot on the face of sport.

Corruption allegations

Michel Platini

The UEFA president was favourite to succeed Blatter when he steps down in February, until he too was the subject of corruption allegations.

A few weeks ago the nation rejoiced when Ireland comprehensively beat France in the Rugby World Cup.

Before the game the French camp had made no secret of the fact that they would be “targeting” the Irish playmaker Jonny Sexton during the game.

Sexton was forced to hobble off early in the match bruised and battered after taking some massive hits.

The idea that a player should be taken out in this way, albeit within the rules of the game, shows that sport today often falls well short of its old Corinthian ideals, where the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Serious concussion

Although the tragic effects of concussion are most evident in American football, former Roscommon star Karol Mannion courageously spoke out this summer about the serious after-effects of his two experiences of concussion on the GAA playing fields.

A core ethical principle is “do no harm”.

These incidents raise serious questions about the risks sports people are subjected to today.

Sport is a microcosm of society. If our language is part of who we are, our sports actually tell us who we are.

When we know the way winners and losers are treated in sport and the way rules are enforced, then we know a great deal about the larger society in which it exists.

The defects we find in sport: cheating, violence and drug abuse are an integral part of the wider society. Increasingly sport is becoming identified with the culture of the survival of the fittest.

The recent GAA championships has seen pundits like Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane fulminating at how a “win at all costs” mentality has infected the GAA, with a litany of accompanying controversies about “diving”, “sledging” and “gamesmanship”.

This summer even hurling pundits were bemoaning how their “beautiful game” has been colonised by the desire not to lose rather than the drive to win.

Sport remains a glorious enterprise for many people. However, major ethical questions abound about it.

Accordingly, this Saturday the department of religions and theology at Trinity College will host a major conference on ethics and sport.

It takes place in the LongRoom Hub from 10am and contributors will include George Hook, Gareth O’Callaghan, Gary O’Toole, Ollie Campbell, Karol Mannion, and Joe Brolly. Admission is free. Dr John Scally is adjunct assistant professor in ecclesiastical history at the department of religions and theology, Trinity College Dublin

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