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Sports ethics: an anthology
  1. J Savulescu,
  2. B Foddy

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    Edited by Jan Boxill. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 2002, £60.00 (hardcover), £17.99 (paperback), ISBN 0631216960

    This is a collection of 35 papers, 10 of which were written specifically for this anthology. It presents a wide range of material, spanning specific topics, such as racial issues or drugs in sport, and also more abstract areas, such as the quality of sportsmanship. Most of the writing is by philosophers, but there are pieces representing sportspeople, physical education specialists, sports psychologists, sport scientists, journalists, a lawyer, and a basketball coach. For this reason, the book is stylistically very diverse. Fittingly, the volume closes with a 1999 piece by Rick Reilly, a writer for Sports Illustrated, written from the perspective of an 8 year old sports fan who is getting the wrong message from televised sport.

    The theme of sport’s corruption seems to run strongly in this collection. There seems to be an undercurrent of moral outrage at sport’s degradation through commercialisation, new technology, and competition taken too far.

    Editor Jan Boxill’s introductory piece on the moral significance of sport, for example, defines sport in terms of four “paradigmatic” properties, all of which seem prone to “perversion”. Sport, Boxill explains, can be degraded when we make a living from it, when we break rules, or when we view our sporting success as our opponent’s loss. These paradigmatic qualities, Boxill says, also explain the importance of sport: it is the “single most available and the single most participated in means” for attaining self development, self expression, and self respect. “Sport is the art of the people”, she claims, which sounds wonderful—yet we wonder if perhaps this amounts to a devaluation of sports fans’ appreciation of sport’s baser, less artistic, merits: Beckham’s glamour, McEnroe’s tantrums, or Mohammed Ali’s propensity to verbally raise the stakes of victory. Some of the “best” sportspeople on Boxill’s definition, such as Pete Sampras, are the least loved. And if sports are really “of the people”, then surely the popularity of a sport is a good metric of whether or not it is headed in the right direction?

    We are not so worried about the perversion of sport as most of these authors are. Boxill, like many of the authors of this volume, is an avid amateur sportsperson as well as a philosopher, and it shows in her conception of sport—a conception that is more “of the sportspeople” than “of the people”. Sport evolves in ways that the sportspeople themselves are often slowest to accept, because they are most strongly affected by change. But from the point of view a sports appreciator, commercial sponsorship did not eliminate sportsmanship from cricket, graphite racquets failed to eliminate skill from tennis, and professionalism did not ruin the Olympics. As these changes have rolled in, participation and audience involvement have ballooned—“the people” have loved it. Nonetheless, in this book Peter Wenz’s article on “Human equality in sports” decries professionalism, Kathleen Pearson presents an indictment of deliberate fouls, and all three papers on performance enhancing drugs conclude that banning drug use in sport is justified.

    Whether we agree with the authors’ sporting politics or not, the quality of the work selected is often very good. One of the pieces specifically written for this book is Laura Morgan’s “Enhancing performance in sports: what is morally permissible”, in which she looks for a new argument supporting her intuition that performance enhancements “do not belong” in sport. Her novel argument is that the use of drug enhancements is harmful to the sport, meaning that it worsens the nature of sport. The difficulty for many commentators on this issue is that they want to prohibit even harmless drugs on the basis that they make a sport unfair, but have no answer to the objection that sport is already a genetic contest which is intrinsically unbalanced and unfair. Morgan avoids this issue by placing the emphasis instead on matching contestants to produce competitive contests which will challenge every competitor. Harmless drugs, she argues, would worsen the nature of sport because they inhibit this matchmaking, and thus would undermine the “mutual quest to achieve excellence” which is the ideal goal of sport. This argument entails the rather radical conclusion that harmless drugs would be permissible in solitary, non-competitive sports. We have argued that far from perverting the spirit of sport, performance enhancement embodies the human drive to be better. To be human is to be better. Performance enhancement, we have argued, embodies the spirit of human sport.1

    This is a volume that questions much of the status quo concerning how we ought to play sport, and how we ought to appreciate it, but only rarely challenges this conservative conception of what sport is all about. Those who share the authors’ stance on what is valuable about sport are likely to be fully satisfied by this anthology, but for some of us, perhaps a few more challenging papers could have been presented. Boxill’s introductory piece is intended to motivate an academic discourse on the nature of sport, which is an excellent goal, and the breadth of the material presented here gives this goal impressive support. This is an intriguing and comprehensively interdisciplinary collection of writing.

    • Presentation17/20
    • Comprehensiveness15/20
    • Readability19/20
    • Relevance15/20
    • Evidence basis14/20
    • Total80/100


    Edited by Jan Boxill. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 2002, £60.00 (hardcover), £17.99 (paperback), ISBN 0631216960


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