"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Morality of Competition

BBC Radio 4 - Moral Maze, The Morality of Competition

"Sir Bradley Wiggins, the greatest cyclist of his, maybe any age continues to protest his innocence after a damning report from MPs accused him of taking a normally banned drug to enhance his performance. He was permitted to take it as a treatment for asthma. The MPs acknowledge that what he did was legal, but say he crossed an ethical line to gain an unfair advantage. The same day that controversy broke, Sir Roger Bannister died. The quintessential gentlemen amateur apparently broke the four minute mile on a diet of pilchards. Nobody ever accused him of cheating...

Even at the height of the Corinthian era, the 1908 London Olympics, the marathon runners dosed themselves on brandy, champagne and rat poison. The favorite dropped out dead drunk, the front runner tried to get around the final rat the wrong way. Several nearly died...

Cheating has to be about breaking rules. And if he didn't break the rule, then he didn't cheat... I think you could make a really good argument, really persuasive argument that actually, it's ingenious if you can find the loopholes, if you can find the the gaps within the rules, then that makes you a brilliant sports star, a brilliant coach, a brilliant manager. And actually, we usually applaud anybody that identifies weaknesses as long as they’re within the rules if we can identify gaps in the rules to use them to our advantage. So usually we applaud that...

‘You say that the culture is actually atrophying. I mean, you gave the example of rugby, you're saying that actually the culture is changing. And by that I think you meant it was getting worse in the sense that, you know, cheating, gamesmanship and so on, are on the increase. That's pretty depressing.’

‘You may think that, but also it's more entertaining. I mean, people want to see good spectacles of sport. People love good spectacles of sports. They love good competition in that respect, and there might be incidences where or incidents where there's gamesmanship that occurs and there's a slight moral outcry at that time but actually I think the sport ultimately is an entity spectacle now’...

‘I think there's a certain relativity to this or at least a context specific dimension to it. So I think for instance, in rugby cheating is part of the game’

‘Really? That’s terrible, isn’t that terrible?’

‘Well, let me just contrast that say with chess. So let's say if you turned your back for a moment, I robbed your queen. I would say that I can't really win that game of chess. There's something has happened since the intervention has occurred which corrupts the game as a contest, whereas in rugby it seems like there is a sort of perhaps a value that's placed on on being able to deceive the referee, being able to create a picture that one has abided by the rules, but has in fact not. And so this, one of the great rugby players is Richie McCaw, the legendary All Blacks captain and there was a great debate as to whether he was the best player in the world or the best cheat, or perhaps both’…

‘It may well be that there's a certain kinds of virtue is associated with being able to cheat’

‘Why? How?’

‘That there's an ability to present a picture to the referee or to persuade the referee’

‘Where’s a virtue? I understand the point in that you want to win the point or the game or the match. But where's the virtue?’

‘So I suppose the virtuous is is being able to, there’s certain sorts of skills are required to do this well’

‘Well, there’s skills in robbing a bank’...

The level playing field, it's nonsense For a start, we all have different genes. So there's no way of getting two people to the start line of any race or competition with the same genetic inheritance. Secondly, we all have different environments. Not everyone grows up with a older sister, who beats you at everything like I do when I was a kid. So yeah, professional sport was a relatively benign world, compared to losing at beach cricket and getting the ball into the sea. So in actual fact, no one, there is no level playing field...

Genetics, education, parents, siblings, family, all those things change. And of course, money makes a big difference too and you're right, that there is an edge to be gained from superior facilities and nutrition. There is a difference between all of that and actually a systematic doping program. Now there is also a gray area and in that gray area, that's where ethical decisions do take place. Now I can think of examples in sport and I'll give you one now where there is obviously an ethical decision being made which is against the team’s self interest. Now let's imagine a quick thought experiment. World Cup rugby…

Your scrum’s going backwards, there is a huge incentive for the front row forward there to shout I'm breaking my neck, as has happened in professional rugby and opposition has stopped and saved that person's life. It doesn't happen so in other words, teams act outside their rational self interest on some kind of code of honor."
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