Social Science blog

14 January 2011

Changing controversies

Tuesday 11th January saw a really fascinating event held in the British Library. Hosted by the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Sport and Leisure and Recreation study groups it attracted an audience of eager participants from across the HE sector and some starry names from the world of sport research. The conference was about the Olympic Games and the social science issues it raises and there were four sessions  which looked at mega events, the history of ‘Olympic’ designated festivals, modern European identity vis a vis the Games, the popularity of the Olympics, and the status of the athlete within the event itself. The latter, which took the form of a round table discussion featuring Professor Barrie Houlihan, and Drs Elizabeth Pike and Dominic Malcolm was particularly intriguing because it posed a number of questions about the role the elite athletes actually play as part of this most monumental of mega events. It was suggested that although the Olympics and Paralympics could not happen without the athletes, beside the bureaucratic juggernaut of the Games and the economic, political and logistical issues it brings with it, they seem almost marginalised, caught up in a net of rules and regulations which define their eligibility, their validity (as drug-free competitors) and their actions.

 Another interesting issue that was raised was that of drug testing and the minute arrangements which athletes have to submit to in order to ensure that they are drug-free. As biological techniques – the drugs themselves, genetic engineering and so on- become more and more sophisticated, we have to ask ourselves how far we are prepared to go to regulate elite athletes’ lives to ensure that they are ‘clean’. Complicated issues like these can become too problematic to be resolved, and it occurred to me, while listening to the debate, that thirty years ago we would have been discussing ‘amateurism’ and how to police it. In 1988 the IOC dropped the regulation that Olympians must be ‘amateurs’ because the situation had grown much too complicated, with the advent of government sponsorship of athletes. So will the drugs issue have to be dropped some day as being too difficult to police. Interesting!

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