a shift in direction perhaps

August 14, 2007

I might be on the verge of a direction shift in my thesis, or perhaps an understanding of what I’ve been doing this last year :)
I have been having troubles with the idea of developing a definition in an open system, as it is technically impossible to define something which is in an open system or set. So I have been reading a bit about definitions and it seems that even the experts have troubles with what a definition is, how it is to be used and how it changes.

This had led me to a focus shift; that I cannot re-define something that can’t possess a definition in the first place; that I have to model it instead. But that said, models are difficult and dangerous things, they are prone to error, oversimplification or incorrect assumptions, and I really do like the “the best model of the world is the world itself” attitudes. Therefore a model doesn’t seem appropriate.

I want something that helps me express the “nature” of sport and games, includes all those instantiations that currently exists, and will be able to identify and classify those that will come into existence.

I have picked up on method instead of model.

Further thoughts as they come to hand.

Intermittent posts and structural change

August 14, 2007

Unfortunately, I am attending to some major structural and focus changes in the direction of my research and thus have been dealing with that of late.

As a follow up to the conference circuit of a month or so ago, I am planning a paper based upon aspects of the Sporting Traditions conference presentation that I gave.

The Conference road trip

July 2, 2007

The Australian Society of Sport History annual conference is over, and now I am at the Australian Association of Philosophy annual conference.

The ASSH conference was quite interesting, especially for a non-historian. I found most of the speakers interesting and engaging. I especially enjoyed the “Drugs in sport” stream and the debate that followed.

I’m currently at the start of day two of the AAP. The analytic tradition of philosophy has thus far been pitched at a level that is completely over my head. So unfortunately,  I’m finding little that I actually understand, and even less that I really want to understand. I’m starting to find the analytic tradition something of a bore; but I think this has a lot to do with my lack of a classical philosophical background and personality that makes my eyes glaze over whenever somebody starts talking in detailed terms – it was the same with organic chemistry.

Today I plan to attend:

Logic: Mark Colyvan – Principle of Uniform solution

Philosophical Psychology: Richard Rummery – Rousseau’s narcissus

Applied ethics: Fritz Allhoff – Autonomy of nanoethics

Applied ethics: Susan Dodds – Disagreements in Bioethics policy and democracy

The last two I’m particularly interested in.  Hopefully, further reports to come.

Oh, and I finally met Russell Blackford :)

Who is a very nice chap

ANZALS conference, Melbourne Jan 2008

June 15, 2007

Given that my University (Victoria University, School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance) is hosting this event, please find below the notice and call for papers for the 8th Biennial Conference for the Australian and New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies .

Leisure academics, scholars, researchers, managers, and service delivery staff are invited to attend the Australian & New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies (ANZALS) conference in Melbourne, Australia from 9-11 January 2008. The theme for the conference is “Leisure is the key…unlocking people and communities”. Come to Melbourne to enjoy the best of leisure and contribute to the dialogue about leisure’s capacity to unlock people and communities. For more information about the conference please go to http://www.staff.vu.edu.au/anzalsconference/index.htm

Call for Papers!!

The call for papers has been open since March and closes on 1 July 2007 so please check the web link below to get your abstract into the review process. There is also scope to have a refereed paper considered for the special edition of Annals of Leisure Research – all the relevant information is on the website – http://www.staff.vu.edu.au/anzalsconference/PapersCall.htm

Please contact John Tower if you have any questions or comments about the conference.

Eighth Biennial ANZALS Conference

Leisure is the key … Unlocking people and communities

Conference dates:
Wednesday 9 January to Friday 11 January 2008.

Call for papers:
Papers are invited that address the theme for the conference and explore outcomes that emanate from leisure. Details regarding abstract proposals and refereed papers are available via the Conference website.

Register your interest to receive updates about the conference by sending an email to Teresa.Kaczynski@vu.edu.au with the subject line of ANZALS 2008 Conference. All the details for the conference planning and organisation are available from www.staff.vu.edu.au/ANZALSConference/

Book your spot and unlock your own leisure potential by attending the 2008 ANZALS Conference.

 More information about ANZALS can be found at www.staff.vu.edu.au/ANZALS/

 Come to Melbourne to enjoy the best of leisure and to contribute to the dialogue about leisure’s capacity to unlock people and communities.

Conference participants will be able to:
• share their leisure research,
• explore leisure issues,
• build professional networks,
• learn more about leisure studies
• consider motivators, constraints and precursors to leisure participation, and

• explore leisure outcomes such as individual well being, inclusive recreation, active communities, and social capital.
Conference venue:

The conference will be held at the Sir Zelman Cowan Centre in the School of Law at Victoria University. The venue is located on Queen Street in the heart of the legal district of the Melbourne CBD.

Professor Richard Rorty died

June 12, 2007

We have lost another great philosopher;  Professor Rorty died on Friday 8 June. The New York Time obituary below comes courtesy of Dr Dennis Hemphill, Professor Terry Roberts and Professor William Morgan.

The New York Times
June 11, 2007
Richard Rorty, Philosopher, Dies at 75

Richard Rorty, whose inventive work on philosophy, politics, literary
theory and more made him one of the world’s most influential
contemporary thinkers, died Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 75.

The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, said his wife,
Mary Varney Rorty.

Raised in a home where “The Case for Leon Trotsky” was viewed with
the same reverence as the Bible might be elsewhere, Mr. Rorty
pondered the nature of reality as well as its everyday struggles. “At
12, I knew that the point of being human was to spend one’s life
fighting social injustice,” he wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

Russell A. Berman, the chairman of the Department of Comparative
Literature at Stanford University, who worked with Mr. Rorty for more
than a decade, said, “He rescued philosophy from its analytic
constraints” and returned it “to core concerns of how we as a people,
a country and humanity live in a political community.”

Mr. Rorty’s enormous body of work, which ranged from academic tomes
to magazine and newspaper articles, provoked fervent praise,
hostility and confusion. But no matter what even his severest critics
thought of it, they could not ignore it. When his 1979 book
“Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” came out, it upended
conventional views about the very purpose and goals of philosophy.
The widespread notion that the philosopher’s primary duty was to
figure out what we can and cannot know was poppycock, Mr. Rorty
argued. Human beings should focus on what they do to cope with daily
life and not on what they discover by theorizing.

To accomplish this, he relied primarily on the only authentic
American philosophy, pragmatism, which was developed by John Dewey,
Charles Peirce, William James and others more than 100 years ago.
“There is no basis for deciding what counts as knowledge and truth
other than what one’s peers will let one get away with in the open
exchange of claims, counterclaims and reasons,” Mr. Rorty wrote. In
other words, “truth is not out there,” separate from our own beliefs
and language. And those beliefs and words evolved, just as opposable
thumbs evolved, to help human beings “cope with the environment” and
“enable them to enjoy more pleasure and less pain.”

Mr. Rorty drew on the works of Freud, Nietzsche, Heidegger,
Wittgenstein, Quine and others. Although he argued that “no area of
culture, and no period of history gets reality more right than any
other,” he did maintain that a liberal democratic society was by far
the best because it was the only one that permits competing beliefs
to exist while also creating a public community.

His views were attacked by critics on the left and the right. The
failure to recognize science’s particular powers to depict reality,
Daniel Dennett wrote, shows “flatfooted ignorance of the proven
methods of scientific truth-seeking and their power.”

Simon Blackburn, a philosopher at Cambridge University, has written
of Mr. Rorty’s “extraordinary gift for ducking and weaving and laying

Mr. Rorty was engaged with and amused by his critics. In a 1992
autobiographical essay, “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” he wrote that
he was considered to be one of the “smirking intellectuals whose
writings are weakening the moral fiber of the young”; “cynical and

nihilistic”; “complacent”; and “irresponsible.”

Yet he confounded critics as well, by speaking up for patriotism, an
academic canon and the idea that one can make meaningful moral

His reason for writing the 1992 essay, he said, was to show how he
came by his particular views. Richard McKay Rorty was born in 1931 to
James and Winifred Rorty, anti-Stalinist lefties who let their home
in Flatbrookville, N.J., a small town on the Delaware river, be used
as a hideout for wayward Trotskyites. He describes himself as having

“weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests” that as a boy led him to
send congratulations to the newly named Dalai Lama, a “fellow
8-year-old who had made good.”

Later, orchids became another obsession, and his love of the outdoors
continued throughout his life. An avid birder for the last 30 years,
Mr. Rorty liked to “head over to open spaces and walk around,” his
wife Mary said yesterday from their home in Palo Alto. His last bird
sighting was of a condor at the Grand Canyon in February. In addition
to his wife, Mr. Rorty is survived by three children and two

When he was 15, Mr. Rorty wrote, he “escaped from the bullies who
regularly beat me up on the playground of my high school” to attend
the Hutchins School at the University of Chicago, a place A. J.
Liebling described as the “biggest collection of juvenile neurotics
since the Children’s Crusade.”

In his early career, at Wellesley and Princeton, he worked on
analytic philosophy, smack in the mainstream. As for the surrounding
1960s counterculture, he said in a 2003 interview, “I smoked a little
pot and let my hair grow long,” but “I soon decided that the radical
students who wanted to trash the university were people with whom I
would never have much sympathy.”

By the 1970s, it became clear that he did not have much sympathy for
analytic philosophy either, not to mention the entire Cartesian
philosophical tradition that held there was a world independent of

Later frustrated by the narrowness of philosophy departments, he
became a professor of humanities at the University of Virginia in
1982, before joining the comparative literature department at
Stanford in 1998.

Over time, he became increasingly occupied by politics. In “Achieving
Our Country” in 1998, he despaired that the genuine social-democratic
left that helped shape the politics of the Democratic Party from 1910
through 1965 had collapsed. In an interview, he said that since the
’60s, the left “has done a lot for the rights of blacks, women and
gays, but it never attempted to develop a political position that
might find the support of an electoral majority.”

In recent years, Mr. Rorty fiercely criticized the Bush
administration, the religious right, Congressional Democrats and
anti-American intellectuals. Though deeply pessimistic about the
dangers of nuclear confrontation and the gap between rich nations and
poor, Mr. Rorty retained something of Dewey’s hopefulness about
America. It is important, he said in 2003, to take pride “in the
heritage of figures like Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt,
Martin Luther King, and so on,” he said, and “to use this pride as a
means of generating sympathy” for a country’s political aims.

Washington Post

Conference presentations

May 16, 2007

A short update.

I’ll be presenting a paper at both the Sporting Traditions XVI conference in Canberra 27-30 June and the Australian Association of Philosophy annual conference in Armidale 1 – 6 July.

Sporting Traditions XVI…

Title: Sport Philosophy: Early defnitional approaches

The generally accepted definition of sport in sport philosophy circles is that,

…all sports are indeed games. That is, a game may also correctly be termed a sport if it possesses the additional characteristics of requiring physical skill or prowess to be demonstrated by the participants in the pursuit of its goal.

The above definition articulated by Meier (1995, pp. 31-2) primarily built upon the work of Suits (1979; 1989; 1995) . However, prior to the acceptance of this definition there were many different philosophical, sociological and anthropological approaches to developing a definition of sport. Those approaches ranged from categorisation or taxonomy systems, to essentialistic or analytic definitions, Wittgestinian family resemblance and non-definitional systems.

From the mid 1950’s until the mid 1990’s a varied and lively discussion ensued in regards to this issue, however, once the Suits/Meier formulation was established, much of the discussion ceased, and recently has all but disappeared from the literature. As part of my PhD research I am re-examining the definition of sport in an attempt to remove the physical component. The notion of physicality has become somewhat muddied when we consider ongoing changes to notions of embodiment, identity and humanity in these days of emerging technologies and distributed e-living.

In this paper I intend to examine several of the early approaches towards developing a definition of sport, and relate them to my current research work in attempting to redefine sport.

Meier, KV 1995, ‘Triad Trickery: Playing With Sport and Games’, in WJ Morgan & KV Meier (eds), Philosophic Inquiry in Sport, 2nd edn, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 23-35.

Suits, B 1979, ‘What Is a Game?’ in EW Gerber & WJ Morgan (eds), Sport and the Body: A Philosophical Symposium, 2 edn, Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, pp. 11-7.

—- 1989, ‘The Trick of the Disappearing Goal’, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 16, pp. 1-12.

—- 1995, ‘Tricky Triad: Games, Play and Sport’, in WJ Morgan & KV Meier (eds), Philosophic Inquiry in Sport, 2nd edn, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 16-22.

AAP 2007…

Title: Sport Philosophy: an Introduction

Sport Philosophy formally began its existence as a discipline in 1972 with the formation of the international association for the philosophy of sport. Regrettably, IAPS has recently lost Professor Bernard Suits, one of the disciplines founding fathers. Therefore to commemorate the work of Professor Suits this paper intends to shed some light on this interesting but little known discipline; and some of the foundational work that Professor Suits developed; much of which is still in evidence today.

This paper will start with an overview of Suit’s work and his influence on subsequent developments in this field and progress to detail some of the history, enduring themes and current research work being carried out, both abroad and here in Australia. This paper aims to provide an overview and introductory discussion of the salient issues of this young discipline, in an effort to inform the parent discipline and broaden its appeal.


March 24, 2007

It is probably old news now, but I recently read the BBC article about a gamer who, frustrated at not being able to complete a section of a particular console game built a machine to do it for him.

Link located here:


This, of course, attracted accusations of cheating.

To my way of thinking, in our modern world, there in very few methods of cheating; and at this juncture I must admit I haven’t as yet read the body of knowledge on cheating, so I am coming from a raw position. However, I would suggest that the only method of cheating would be to deliberately breach the rules (constitutive, regulatory and auxillary)  of the game or sport, only insofar as that game or sport does not employ arbiters of the rules, that is to say, referees, umpires or judges etc.

A  referee is the final arbiter of the rules, and therefore is in a position to make judgement upon those rules as to what is or is not a breach; in many cases regardless of what the written code indicates, as dictated by the particular situation at hand.  However, in situations in which the activity in question does not have an arbiter, then the participants are reliant upon their own judgement to keep to the rules of the game or sport, and therefore to me, this is the only situation in which cheating can occur. Therefore cheating is a participant of the activity knowingly breaching the rules when it is expected that the participant engage in enforcing the rules of the activity and, the participant is concievably the only person aware of the breach.

Incidentally, as an aside, I’d suggest that since the realistic goal of most modern, professional (i.e. corporate)  sports (and games) is to win at any cost, then the concept of cheating is diminishing and possibly under threat of extinction.

Returning to the auto-bot scenario, our auto-bot builder has analysed the situation and developed a solution to the unnecessary obstacle.  Utilising an unusual means, outside of the regularly accepted behavioural patterns.

So, in the case of our intrepid auto-play bot developer, is there a auxillary rule explicit or implied by the creator of the game, that the game must be exclusively played  by a human? And even if there is such a rule, was not the human player, engaged in playing the game whilst developing an alternative solution to the unnecessary obstacle presented. A solution, which was legal in terms of the rules of the game as laid down by the developers?

Alternatively,  is there a regulatory rule prohibiting the use of additional performance enhancement technology in pursuit of the game? Given that many gamers (and sportpersons) rely upon non-drug based performance enhancement technologies in the pursuit of their sport or game, then, couldn’t the auto-bot be considered jusat another legal mechano-electrical performance enhancer, on a par with a pair of modern  running shoes?

I guess this is all leading to the questions, what is cheating in the modern context?, and how much enhancement or extension of human ability is legal?

Where does the human end and the enhancement technology begin?

Professor Bernard Suits

March 15, 2007

Professor Bernard Suits died last month. I had hoped to go to Canada for the World Leisure Conference in 2008 and meet him.
Professor Suits was one of the most influential researchers in the early days of the philosophy of sport; and a pioneer in definitional approaches towards games and sport. It is his definition which forms the basis of our present approach, and mostly remains in tact today, thirty odd years after he devised it.

His death is a loss to the discipline and my condolences go with his family and friends.

As time goes by…

February 11, 2007

All good intentions aside, it seems life takes a bit more time that expected and therefore updates here are somewhat sporadic.

latest life events:

1. Relocated to Sydney from Melbourne: a traumatic experience. Apart from taking a lot of time and effort, I now find myself isolated and removed from my ph.d supervisor. This of course makes obtaining advice and having meaningful and synergistic discussions somewhat difficult.

2. The previously posted article has been accepted for publication in the World Leisure Journal later this year. The article has gone through some structural modification at the suggestion of the referee’s and is now much less speculative in nature and introduces more of Dr Hemphill’s cybersports topic interest.

3. At present I am in the process of writing the first draught of one of the literature review chapters. This is proving to be a little more difficult than I intially anticipated. Getting general ideas and connections between authors and subjects is ok, but doing it simply and elegantly is much more difficult.

4. Paid employment in terms of lecturing a TAFE sport business class has materialised. However, the time committment to developing class materials and assignements etc is much greater than I anticipated. Perhaps this is more due to my inexperience as a teacher/lecturer and therefore minimal class preparation skills?

Sydney is an interesting place, although much hotter and stickier than Melbourne., so therefore a little more uncomforatable. However there does seem to be a lively philosophy community here.

I’ve become interested in Plato’s ideas on the body – rejection of the body as immaterial. It appears that I might be able to use Plato’s rejection of the body as supporting my position that physicality is redundant in terms of a modern notion of sport, but at this stage I haven’t read anywhere near enough to have more than vague ideas.


In terms of game culture, there are very interesting discussions going on over at Terra Nova. http://terranova.blogs.com/


Some interesting conferences that I’d love to get to, but finances and other considerations (potential examiners attending) , do not permit me to attend (in chronological order):

Australian Sports Commission: Our Sporting Future

http://www.ausport.gov.au/events/osf2007/ Brisbane, 21-23 March 2007

“Star” Keynote speakers : Fred Coalter and Andy Miah.

Somatechnics Sydney

http://www.somatechnics.org/content/section/4/26/ Sydney April 19-21

Australian Fitness Expo (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane)


Sydney April 20-22

Ubiquitous Media: Theory Culture and Society 25th Anniversary Conference

http://www.u-mat.org/ Tokyo University, 13-16 July 2007

Katherine Hayles and Friedrich Kittler are the stars here

Images of Play and Leisure: 8th Annual Summer Film Symposium

http://www.oldfilm.org/ Bucksport, Maine USA 19- 21 July 2007

Currently reading:

Methany, E. (1968) Movement and Meaning, Ch 6 “Sport Forms” pp 57-82, McGraw-Hill


Hemphill, D. (1992) Sport, Policital Ideology and Freedom, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 16(1), pp 15-33.

Sport, Recreation and Leisure Technology Issues

December 4, 2006

Sport, Recreation and Leisure Technology Issues

Mr Christopher Jones and Dr Dennis Hemphill

School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance

Victoria University

Melbourne, Australia


The sport, recreation and leisure industry is adopting a growing arsenal of technological innovations, some of which will have far-reaching implications and consequences. This period of rapid change should cause us to consider:

a. What will be the impacts of these new and emerging technologies on the way in which we play and consume sport and leisure?

  1. Elite and commercial sport is always looking for a new performance edge, how is this ongoing process going to be implemented to the benefit of sport and should we manage the adoption of certain technologies? (e.g. medical implants, drugs, genetic modification, cyborg enhancements, mental behaviour “implants”)

The “level playing field” issue takes on a whole new dimension when training regimes and technological artefacts provide skewed performance advantages. “Drugs in sport” becomes an ambiguous issue when near future implanted bio-computers will be able to “manufacture” drug-like substances from the athletes own body and direct them to specific targeted sites in the body for maximum effectiveness.

This paper will examine some of the issues surrounding emerging technologies, sport and leisure and discuss some about the anticipated effects of these technologies on our future sport and leisure practices.

We need first to understand that the human form – including human desire and all its external representations – may be changing radically, and thus may be re-visioned…five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something we must helplessly call posthumanism. (Hassan 1977 in Hayles 1999, p. 247)

Sport is a site where the body seems to be on public display like no other activity. Sport is often associated with physicality, from the demonstration of strength, speed and power, to the exercise of motor skills such as throwing, kicking, running, and catching. Physicality also features prominently in philosophical investigations of sport. It is often referred to as the central component that distinguishes sport from games, or that distinguishes one sport from another. At the same time, sports are rule-governed activities that constrain how this physicality is developed and demonstrated. The introduction of commercialism and high technology to sporting endeavour has succeeded in muddying the waters of what the purpose of sport is and how it should be implemented.

This paper will investigate the technological landscape in regards to sport and leisure; beginning with a brief review of the state of play in sport philosophy, moving through to technology considerations, issues surrounding virtual environments and concluding with some thoughts and speculations.

The Sport Philosophy discipline examines ontological and axiological issues with which to explore the notion of what is sport. Sport has been conceptualised in terms of play (Caillois 1961; Esposito 1979; Huizinga 1995; Schmitz 1979; Schroeder 1996), games (Meier 1989, 1995; Morgan 1979; Osterhoudt 1979; Suits 1967, 1973, 1979), physicality (Moe 2005; Osterhoudt 1996; Paddick 1975), family resemblance (McBride 1979), and motor actions (Kretchmar 1992; Osterhoudt 1995; Tamboer 1992, 1995). The Suits/Meier formulation is considered the standard account in the field:

…all sports are indeed games. That is, a game may also correctly be termed a sport if it possesses the additional characteristics of requiring physical skill or prowess to be demonstrated by the participants in the pursuit of its goal. (Meier 1995, pp. 31-2)

The concept of ‘physicality’ has also been linked to bodily excellence (Algozin 1988; Weiss 1969) and to intrinsic goods in sport (Osterhoudt 1996; Paddick 1975). However, Lebed (ND) suggests that the main character of sport is dependent upon social and technological development, and therefore physicality, as some inherent property, need not be a central consideration.

At this point in time, much discussion in the sport philosophy discipline is grounded on the notion of physicality; an ambiguous term in the emerging technological paradigm. So can we conceive of sport in a manner that is not defined by physical skill or prowess? Where is the physical line drawn? How gross does the motor skill need to be to qualify as physical?

Modern sports could be considered to be somewhat independent of physical skill due to the immense technology that is put towards sport for the purposes of eliminating the potential for variation and ‘unplanned’ sports performance. The apparent aim of sports science and technology is to reduce variation in athlete performance and implement a consistent and repeatable maximised output at each instantiation of the activity. Thus essentially removing the variable human physical factors and replacing them with predictable bio-mechanised ones.

Essentially, ‘physical’ is becoming less relevant as there is an increasing move towards technological base-lining in sports practice, which is marginalising physical differences between athletes – the increase in technical coaching, computer aided performance feedback and technological tools designed to improve performance is rapidly creating a cadre of clone-like athletes with almost identical optimal physical and mental performance characteristics. This homogenisation of physicality can be considered to be effectively removing the physical as a testable characteristic of sport performance.

In this high-tech age, we are surrounded by technologies that restore our functioning or enhance our lives. These range from prosthetic devices, implanted technologies (hearing and visual implants, pacemakers, artificial joints, insulin delivery systems and so on), to non-genetic body modifications such a cosmetic surgery and sex changes. Sport is not immune to the impact of these (and other) technologies. While surgical reconstruction, muscle fibre typing and computer modelling, psychological counselling, and nutritional supplementation are currently acceptable technological innovations, there is resistance to, and outright rejection of, other technologies.

Recuperative or therapeutic technologies are generally accepted as they bring the athlete back to ‘normal’, whilst those enhancement technologies are rejected as taking the athlete beyond normal. This begs the questions, what is normal? And why is beyond normal taboo? Baylis and Robert (2004, pp. 17-8) indicate that technologies progress through a sequence from condemnation to ambivalence to advocacy and finally widespread acceptance. Conceivably, there is a relationship between normal (acceptable) and (the rate of) technological change.

These emergent technological improvements are advancing beyond our general ability to implement timely laws/rules governing their effects. Additionally, there is only a minimal framework in place for dealing with the philosophical and practical impacts of the adoption of these new technologies. Paralleling the increasing techno-physical aspect of sport is the continuing social trend to adopt and transfer technology at faster rates than ever before. The movement towards a technologically based on-line society is rapidly replacing the traditional physical or bodily skills with knowledge skills. Gross motor skills are being supplanted by fine and micro-fine motor skills. This trend might ultimately result in the elimination of the traditional notion of the physical or embodiment.

The enhancement technologies in question are slowly eliminating physical performance differences between athletes and sport competitors. Technologies that enable performance will, if a mathematical limit type view is taken, ultimately result in all humans being equally capable and on a similar baseline physical performance level. Consider this speculative scenario; all sprinters in the 100m complete the task in less than five seconds. All competitors cross the finish line at exactly the same time. This example is set, say, thirty years in the future and all of our competitors have bio-mechanical enhanced bodies, uploaded with anticipatory software that enables their take off to synchronised perfectly with the starter’s gun. The physicality dimension of the event is removed as all competitors are equally capable.

But is this scenario so far fetched?

Futurist Ray Kurzweil (2000; 2001; 2005; 2006) anticipates that nanotechnology will be fully realised by 2020-2030. Meanwhile, Brian Corrigan, former head of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, believes athletes are already experimenting with genetic alteration and, Gary Wadler, member of the World Anti Doping Agency, believes genetic enhancement is a definite possibility by the 2012 London Olympic Games (Dobie 2005).

Performance enhancing drugs and genetic engineering are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) (2003) and numerous national sporting bodies. The banning of these technologies has been justified with claims that they are unnatural, unhealthy, and unsporting, that they are a crutch that undermines human effort and self-reliance and a threat to sport and society. The current WADA sponsored ‘war on drugs’, based largely on a strict compliance model (education, surveillance, penalties), tends to foreclose discussion of alternative conceptions of regulating performance enhancement technologies.

The drug control debate in sport, however, provides some telling views about the nature of sport and persons (such as what it is for, and how we should engage with it?). Simon’s view of sport as a “competition between persons(author’s emphasis, 1985, p. 11) makes the use of drugs appear as a prop that diminishes personal effort and responsibility. Brown’s (1980) view of humanity/personhood as self-determination, however, suggests that restricting the voluntary and informed choice of adult athletes when it comes to drug use is ethically questionable. Kayser, Mauron and Miah (2005) also believe that anti doping policies are ineffective, do not encourage fair play and are too costly.

Meanwhile, O’Gorman(2006) suggests that mechanical and non-drug based technologies skew the level playing field notion as much as any pharmacological or genetic enhancement technology is anticipated to do. Somewhat agreeing with Miah (2004) and his general position that enhancement technologies should be permitted on ethical grounds as the restriction argument is invalid.

McCarvill (2005) reviews some of the latest practical advances in athletics prostheses; anticipating further technological developments that will hopefully allow amputee and other disabled athletes to complete without disadvantage against able bodied athletes.

Whilst Ljungqvist and Genel (2005) highlight the issues involved in developing policies towards transgendered athletes and promoting a level playing field; foreshadowing similar difficulties with the development of genetic (and other) enhancement technologies.

Concepts of gender and disability, previously accepted as having a ‘natural’, biological status, are now thought of as more social constructions, and thus malleable. Technology is breaking down the binary categories and increasingly obscuring the boundaries between disabled and able, human and machine; thus challenging our understanding of humanness/embodiment and performance enhancement in sport.

There is an aspiration for our athletes to be superhuman, just as there is an interest from many athletes to go beyond what is known as the limit of human performance. It is this tension between humanness and seeking to be superhuman that reflects the conflict in values about sport and that reveals the challenge to negotiate and requestion sporting values. (Miah 2004, p. 66)

The large scale economic and political interests served by gold medal and record breaking performances suggests that sport is fast becoming the competition between national systems and corporations with their respective stables of athletic performers. It appears that sport is moving away from it being the test of the individual athlete’s intrinsic embodied physical resources, to focus on the coordinated resources of a sport performance collective, of which the embodied athlete is only single part of the greater whole. Is modern commercial sport converting the athlete to a mechanistic performance tool? A mortal engine. (Hoberman 1992).

Loland (2002, p. 69) suggests that athletic performance is based upon random genetic inheritance and environmental exposure. Loland indicates that athletes are moral agents and therefore the only moral position to adopt is to accept both genetic and environmental influences as valid upon the fairness of competition. To take any other position is to reduce the athlete to a machine of either nature or environment. Which of course, if you step outside of academia and look at the wider sporting world, is generally exactly what is occurring. Media based corporate sporting spectacle seems to be an finely balanced system of superlative performance with ‘clean’ drug free imagery. Conjuring up images of the athlete without a leaky body. (Longhurst 2003/2001)

Hoberman states part of the performance enhancement problem relatively succinctly; “The most important characteristic of modern high-performance sport is that it is a global monoculture whose values derive in large measure from the sphere of technology.” (Hoberman, 1988, p.324 in Tamboer 1992, p. 35). Meier follows this train of thought by declaring that in modern sport, the human body is an obstacle to be overcome and reduced to the status of manipulable object (Meier, 1988 in Tamboer 1992, p. 35) – a technological marvel to facilitate sporting activity. If this is indeed the case, then there is a moral imperative to implement genetic enhancement technologies in athletes to eliminate the random and irrelevant genetic background of the athlete.

We have training regimes which optimise performance, we have technologies enabling coaches to give instant feedback on performance, to analyse and report on minute errors in delivery or performance. Technologies such as nanotechnology, gene therapy, genetic modification; somatic (non-inherited genetic modification) and germ line (inheritable genetic modification) and cyborg implants: anything from sub-cutaneous drug delivery systems, pacemakers and artificial organs through to limb replacements and perceptual enhancements; artificial eyes or retinas, are on the cusp of development and will have an enormous effect on everyday life and sport performance in particular. These technologies should cause us to think about what will and should be permitted performance enhancement; and what direction we want sport to take in the future. Coupled, with the anticipated development of these advanced technologies, the conditions are ripe for effectively encouraging elite athletes to turn towards these alternative means to gain a performance edge over the competition.

Baylis and Robert (2004), who oppose wide-spread genetic modification, state that genetic enhancement technologies are inevitable, and there is little point in attempting to prohibit their introduction; rather effort should be focussed upon managing their implementation. Browsing the bleeding edge technology information sources – ‘blogs and tech reports – reveals daily notifications of the development of bacterial nanowire batteries, nanocars, carbon nanotubes, brain implanted microchips enabling the paraplegic to control computers with thought patterns (brainwave readers), artificial limbs which detect nerve impulses at the site of amputation and replicate the motion of a hand or foot, artificial retina implants to correct defective sight, gene-therapy drugs designed to switch certain proteins or genes on and off (anti-cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s medicines), experiments in genetically modified foodstuff and organisms. The list is growing longer with each passing day, and refinements are being constantly made to improve the process.

Much of the genetic enhancement argument revolve around the innate physical limitations the individuals are born with, and that genetic and other advanced technologies are a method for removing or overcoming innate physical disadvantages, however those disadvantages are conceived. Recent advances in genetic modification (GM) research potentially impact greatly upon sport. For example, germ-line GM’d athletes might be labelled ‘cheats’; even though they would not have control over their genetic heritage, and thus limited moral responsibility.

Looking at the literature; Cooke (2003) argues that the implementation of genetic enhancement technologies is a proper moral goal when viewed from a Rawlsian and Senian perspective. Cooke invokes Sen’s Capacity Theory to support her contention. Miah (2004) examines gene therapy and transfer technologies and their implication for understanding of personhood (i.e., human choice, responsibility), authenticity and sport.

Savulescu (2001) argues that with the advent of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) parents involved in the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme “should select embryos or fetuses [sic] which are most likely to have the best life, based upon available genetic information, including information about non-disease genes” (2001, p. 413). Savulescu describes this principle as “Procreative Beneficence”’ a principle that promotes the genetic enhancement agenda.

Alternatively Birch (2005) argues that Savulescu’s position introduces problems with issues such as aggregate versus individual justice. Procreative Beneficence raises the issue of genetic determinism. Birch analyses the issue of ethical behaviour based upon genetic deterministic responsibility – can the genetically modified be ethically responsible for their actions? Birch concludes that the issue of genetic choice or enhancement will have far reaching consequences on axiological issues. de Melo-Martin (2004) reply’s to Savulescu on slightly different grounds, arguing that there will be problems of access to the technology for poorer individuals and further social justice issues relating to informed and coerced consent.

The bioethics literature is rich in argument over whether we should or should not genetically modify, however, this argument is immaterial in some respects as Baylis and Roberts (2004) are quite correct – the technology is inevitable and we should spend our time devising management plans and impact solutions rather than arguing over a foregone conclusion.

We live in a culture of simulation. Our games, our economic and political systems, and the ways architects design buildings, chemists envisage molecules, and surgeons perform operations all use simulation technology. In 10 years the degree to which simulations are embedded in every area of life will have increased exponentially.” (Turkle 2004)

What will this mean to sport if we maintain the current definition of sport being a game which primarily tests physical skill or prowess? And maintain the “War on Doping’ and “Zero Tolerance” strict compliance stance? Will sport become virtual? Anachronistic? Or non-existent; made extinct by a new technological and disembodied paradigm? Or will sport successfully re-invent itself in line with the emerging technological advances?

Immersive, persistent virtual environments are changing the way in which we interact with the world and each other. These technologies are causing us to ask the question – what is real? Virtual world environments such as Second Life ™, World of Warcraft ™ and EverQuest ™ are blurring the boundaries between the concrete natural world and the virtual. These technologies are having an impact on leisure, and how we view ourselves as (disembodied) entities within the constructed environment.

Schmitz (1979) and Schroeder (1996) speak to the concept of the playspace and indicate that play occurs in a sacred or mystical space, apart from the ordinary world. In terms of technological development, this leads us to ponder the virtual environment and its effects upon the sporting ‘playspace’. Technologies such as virtual reality, the internet, online communities, ‘blogs, highly visual and graphically rich computer games and virtual worlds have the ability to change the playing field in a radical manner.

We are living in a postmodern culture; therefore our world view and definitions must change to incorporate the simulated, fictional and fantastic (Rojek 1995). A virtual online environment is all of the above; simulated, fictional and fantastic. Therefore our understanding of sport and leisure must be extended (postmodernised, or perhaps simulated) to incorporate the new culture into the old modernistic definition of sport.

If constructed environments are considered authentic and add value and meaning to a persons life, then the activities within the constructed environments should be considered authentic (from a perspective of phenomenologically being-in-the-world). Therefore we need to re-asses and redefine the meaning of sport in light of the fact that these virtual environments, or magic kingdoms (Rojek 1995) of the web are authentic in their roles as places (objects) to explore and experience, and to host certain (game/sport) activities.

But–theoretically at least-immersive media begin to collapse the distinction between real and imaginary, as they completely engage the participant in realistic simulation. (Schroeder 1996, p. 144)

The blurring of the lines between real and the imagined, or perhaps a better distinction is between the natural and the constructed digital environment, as imagination is increasingly not required. Simulation and virtual environments present concrete visual, spatial and aural representations of their ‘world’ and therefore less and less is imagination required to interact in a meaningful way or on a meaningful level with these artificial environments.

As the technology increases the artificial environments are taking on more aspects of the concrete world. Persistent worlds with concrete locations that grow and develop in relation to the growth of artificial culture within the environment. The magic lands are creating and nurturing their own magic cultures.

The playspaces are becoming more concrete and ‘realistic’ as the real or natural world bleeds into the constructed worlds. The constructed worlds take on the appearance, and properties of phenomena, and objects within their own right. The constructed worlds are becoming persistent and interactive. The constructed worlds are becoming alternative real worlds, not playspaces. They are growing and developing, and therefore the actions, and cultures within them should be viewed from the point of view of neo-culture or proto-cultures. These cultures, environments and objects are becoming part of the real and subsumed into the real. Therefore the constructed environments and constructed activities should be brought into our ‘real’ world understanding.

…leisure requires radical reinterpretation for having become disassociated from its conventional constituents. Indeed, it remains unclear whether cyberspatial leisure can, in fact, be conceptualised as leisure at all. …”leisure in cyberspace challenges conventional conceptions of spatiality, time, geography and sexuality necessitating new modes of understanding (Aitchinson, 1999).”

(Miah 2000, pp. 211-2)

To conclude; new technologies are reducing the need for raw physical prowess to be a defining factor of sport. Perhaps another way to go is to view sports as ultimately being absorbed back into games. There once was an important divergence between sport and games, however as technology increases the boundaries between the two collapses back towards a common set, that all sports are games and technology is eliminating the distinction between them.

The current philosophical definition of sport is being exposed to significant stress by the introduction of advancing technologies. What is physical? This is becoming an important question in terms of disembodied distributed environments, nanotechnology and genetic technologies. Therefore, it is time to re-examine the notion of physicality, in reference to the new and emerging technologies which have an ability to impact upon the manner in which we participate in sport and recreation.


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[1]Christopher Jones christopher.jones9@vu.edu.au

Dr Dennis Hemphill dennis.hemphill@vu.edu.au


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