Vers une éthique du sport dans la société contemporaine par Dietmar Mieth

Looking back over the last 100 years, the face of sport has changed beyond recognition. Although modern sport has religious and moral roots in the original Olympic ideal of the Greeks and the Olympic movement of Coubertin, it owes a good deal to the national revival movements such as that of Jahn, the father of gymnastics, to certain educational systems (e.g. in Britain), and from the democratisation of leisure time, by which sport not only increased but became accessible to all. However, sport is now, at the beginning of this new millennium, dominated by commercialization, the media and the medical profession. Active interest in sport for fun and passive interest in top-class sport have grown enormously. A whole industry has grown up around sport that fuels its own success: advertising and sponsorship increases demand and gives sport an enormous financial boost.  

Media domination of sport is increasing at the top-level of professional sport with astronomical sums spent on media marketing. There is a widening chasm between the increasing importance given to sports media and its sense of responsibility. Ideals such as " it is more important to take part than to win " or " there are higher values than success " seem to be increasingly obsolete in this context.

Although sport has always been associated with health and fitness, sports' growing partnership with the medical profession, above all in the area of pharmaceuticals, has brought some damaging results. Doping is something which seems to be inextricably bound with sport today. In terms of the user of controversial substances, doping is attractive. It is not just about enhancing performance, but also about relieving pain and injury, shortening recovery times and ensuring that short-term but intensive success wins over longer term participation.

Doping is a very complex phenomenon even if the ban and the official fight against doping is so often reclaimed. Today, the question of aging is also often seen as related with a sportive life. The regeneration of brain cells even in the higher age by physical training has been demonstrated. Medical care has therefore grown in significance and scale.  

This has an impact on the products offered by the pharmaceutical industry and on the increasingly specific demands on medical personnel, for whom there is no specific training approved by sport associations or by the state.

In the end, sport mirrors our society. Its ambiguities can be looked at in the light of the broader ambiguities of our society. Yet, on the other hand, in terms of supply and demand, sport " supplies " us with a unique set of qualities or values which are attractive because they can- not be achieved (or so it appears) as efficiently by other means. Some of these values are: health and fitness, energy, the experience of competition, a feeling of achievement and success, discipline, social contact, educational and cultural opportunities, a model of fair play, solidarity, social advancement and integration.  

I. Sport as a means of human development.

Everyday experience shows that sport can favour human development. One of the possibilities of sport is taking part in a learning process. If morality, as tradition unanimously maintains, depends on volition, then the metaphor behind Nietzsche's punning reference to the 'exercise of the will' is relevant here. The exercise of the will is an asceticism which finds its anthropological yardstick in a human volition purged of self-concern. Asceticism can be seen as purified self- love. This learning process includes self-distancing and restraint as an inward aspect of specific development. A further essential characteristic is that of moderation as an expression of ones personality. Anyone concerned with discovering what is appropriate to him or her is also looking for a progressive equilibrium of individual potentialities, which has to be made in order for them to develop reciprocally.

Sport as a means of being human has something to do with the nature of the ' social character ' (Erich Fromm) which it produces. By this I do not mean temperament, but rather, the effects of an assimilation process of the world and a socialization process between human beings. The notion that development through sport, and ultimately sporting achievement, presupposes character is as important as the idea that it helps to produce it. It should be clear that the development of sport depends on the socio-psychological context.

According to Erich Fromm, there are two possible social orientations or tendencies: one is destructive and the other is productive. The destructive tendency may also be seen as a product - or consuming orientation, in which spiritual values become commodities viewed in terms of material desire. This tendency reduces everything that is human to the inanimate and consequently is spiritually destructive.

The productive tendency, or biophilia, on the other hand, does not see the result of a performance as an outline or as a thing, but is interested in how the activity helps to transform the human person.

II. From fairness to justice.          

On the one hand, 'fairness' comprises personal dignity : the inalienability, uniqueness and individual pervasiveness of persons. On the other hand, fairness also comprises traditional ideas of aequitas, of equity, of a balance of presuppositions, requirements and possibilities.

Fair behaviour is equivalent to the one, and fair rules are equivalent to the other. Whoever wishes to be fair and just needs corresponding rules to be so. He has to make the principles of equality the basis of developing freedom, and therefore has to accept the equality of rights and obligations.

The most important practical rule of the sense of justice is the 'maximin principle' which justifies inequality only if this serves and determines the thrust of justice, so that every measure, equal or not equal, is directed to the greatest advantage (maximum) of the most disadvantaged (minimum). This criterion is unusual for us, for our society by reason of economy is accustomed to an emphatically utilitarian philosophy. A utilitarian attitude sees a measure as just if the disadvantages of certain groups can be set against the advantages of the whole. In accordance with this 'maximin' criterion, it is possible to decide whether priorities in rule interpretation, priorities in sport pro- motion, priorities in environmental justice, and priorities of self-control in sport are just and fair.

III. Sport in the context of solidarity and liberty.

Although the ethics of sport are most often subject to the paradigm of self-realisation, this paradigm most commonly takes place in an encounter with another person. From this viewpoint, the social dimension is ultimately an external 'imperative of avoidance'. But a constructive social emphasis would assume that sport is also thought of politically. Discussion of the so-called politicisation of sport often 'barks up the wrong tree', even though it rightly rejects inappropriate political functionalist of sport. From the ethical standpoint, however, the inappropriate politicisation of sport is not the transposition of sport into the political dimension, but the unjustifiable application of a political phenomenon to sport. Anyone who, similar to Vatican II, conceives sport as a contribution to the establishment of fraternal relations between people of all classes, countries, and races, will necessarily advocate a 'political' sport. The political dimension includes on the one hand the public character of sport, and on the other hand the responsible involvement with social institutions. Sport is a public social institution. Involvement in it belongs to the realm of political ethics.

Following the principle of subsidiarity, the organization of sport may be relative autonomous. But sport is not a societal oasis. If some societal problems connected with sport events cannot be regulated by the sporting authority itself, then the regulation by common law is necessary. Not only justice, but the principles of solidarity and liberation have to be considered here. The attainment of solidarity is a presupposition of sport itself and of involvement in sport: for access to solidarity means the simultaneous learning of restrictions and of openness. Solidarity mediates between the need for reciprocal partisanship and the drive to continually extend this option.

The concept of democracy and social liberty is important for sport to make the transition from the paradigm of an imperial developmental aid (or, as we might term it, structural promotion), to the paradigm of self-reliance in a context of liberty. Sport should be communicated politically, for it is a cultural phenomenon, but it should also be subject to emancipatory processes.

IV. Sport within the global common good.

One can see sport as a common cultural heritage of mankind. This means it is a good (even in a pre-moral sense), that corresponds to human needs and must be administered globally and under global codes. A global common good does not deny cultural differences and preferences. But the intercultural exchange of these specific preferences, which are not common, is facilitated today by the mass media in such a way that the common mutual understanding of these differences has advanced so much that the experiences of strange customs now belong to the realm of familiar experiences.

The common relevance of sport is decided in practice. Perhaps there will once again be cultures in which people survive without sport and possibly live better lives without it. Nothing entitles us to assume that our cultural activity known as 'sport' is more than the result of specific social processes, the ultimate meaning of which cannot be assessed as yet. In this sense, sport is not a 'supra-temporal' but a 'historical good', which forms one of the " signs of the time " (cf. signa temporis, Vatican II ). In fact, sport is subject to a form of historical necessity which neither society nor the individual can easily avoid but must make the best of it.

Sport is a leisure pursuit, an achievement pursuit, a mode of obedience to the drive to self-display, a means for young people to meet on a supra-national level, and a means of symbolic cultural exchange. Sport as all of these things has possible ethical implications, especially as an international youth movement and as a symbolic cultural exchange.

Sport has even been called a form of the peace movement itself.

That is excessive and obscures the difference between non-moral values or commodities, and moral values which indicate the criteria for use of such commodities. For example: sport serves peace as a process of reduction of force and of inducement to social justice, when it is practised appropriately. In fact, it can be put entirely in the service of the opposite of peace: it can be used as a part of the athletic armoury of different political blocs, as a nationalistic self-enhancement, as a glorification of competitive ideology, as an aggressive potential of an individualism which employs the use of in appropriate means under the guise of acclaimed results.

Admittedly, sport politics can be tantamount to peace politics, and the pursuit of sport can adopt some of the learning processes proper to peace education. Sport as a movement to global (inter)culture is ethically relevant, but this does not happen by itself, it remains a task for all of the concerned parties (see below). This can be underlined by the negative potential which is almost on the side of the concrete praxis of sport.

V. Negative aspects of a postmodern culture of sport.

Sport as an activity that occurs within a social context does not mean that sport is one among other areas of life, but rather, that the imbuing of human beings in society with sport is a form of 'inflexional language'. Or, as Luhmann describes it, it is a form of a 'reduced complexity' in social life. It is a language which a person has to use in this particular way, even when apparently avoiding this specific area of life.

Such avoidance is possible however only as a conscious refusal which is systematically and appropriately integrative into a sports context, as something 'unsporting' (which nowadays is much worse than being 'unmusical'). If we accept that sport is a social context or social system in the sense of a form of reduced complexity of the world of life, it seems appropriate to consider this reelection in an environmentally 'critical' manner : that is, from the viewpoint of a 'human' environment. Then we must take the multiplicity of possible human images into account. Accordingly, I see the Christian view of humanity as an 'open concept' which comprises consistency in terms of a living tradition, and the equilibration of actual areas of human life. In light of this, the following observations seem important.

The reduction of physical activity to the cult of the body.

The Fathers of the Church confronted two extreme tendencies regarding the inadequate integration of physical activity in sport in classical antiquity. On one hand there was the 'Apollonian' separation of spirit from body - the Gnostic tendency - and, on the other hand the 'Dionysian' separation of the body from spirit; that is, the body as an instrument of idolatry. The Old and New Testaments accord here with the Fathers: the games are a form of cult to idols, which Tertullian says the baptised must shun. Clement of Alexandria anticipated the judgment of the twentieth-century Church with a more nuanced opinion: " physical activity, yes; the cult of the body, no ". This discernment of spirits demands closer consideration.

Physical activity is reduced to the cult of the body when: - the health of a human being is seen as a purely physical thing.

Psychosomatics long ago told us that health is unattainable by isolating the body. If however the illusion is pursued that health is a purely physical functioning of the body, then physicality is an inadequate way of representing the whole human being; - when physical appearance is confined entirely to the ideal of the athletic body. Advertising and everyday notions of appropriateness in regard to the appearance of the body, in fashion for instance, but also in normative distinctions between the sexes, confirm the ideal of a body transformed by sport. Historically speaking, this form of reductionism was not always self-evident, as Rubens' paintings show; - when physical achievement overrides the recreational dimension. This one-sidedness of sporting achievement is more liable to harm than to promote a holistic view of physical exercise.   Examples of this tendency are tennis elbow, cyclist's cramp and restraint in movement due to the excessively pronounced muscles of a weight lifter ; - when the training of the body associated with sport interrupts youthful physical development, or when sport, so to speak, exacts its price of a delayed injury which shows its negative effects in old age if not before.

Of course these well known critical repercussions do not mean that human beings cannot live, and must not live, with these reductive features in their lives. They may do so on the condition that they observe the principles of moral integration: that is, the liberation of these reductive features from mere partial goals, from, in fact, " reductions ". They also have to keep to the motto 'nothing to excess', which was Johann Michael Sailer's contribution to the debate.

The social problem of physical activity resides in its instrumentalisation. Whereas before, the so-called 'games' were mere performances in which only success counted, today, participation, which is characteristic with mass sport, represents a step of progress. How magnificent to be one of the 80,000 who were allowed to take part in the New York marathon! The imbuing of life with sport is not a reduction of life to the realm of the mere physical, but rather a progressive manifestation of the cerebral in the physical: that is, the drive to achieve is ultimately located in the brain. Therefore it is scarcely surprising that in competitive sport the psychological factor is a key to success as is often the case in tennis.

The reduction of the play element by the cult of success and competition.

For some time now the social symbolism of sport, even of broad-based sport, has been located not in physical activity but in the cult of success. Graf von Krokow put it this way: sport expresses the principles of industrial society belief better than that society itself. Sport without something to be counted and assessed is mere play or even 'idle' art. The sporting person is the prototype of success. The achievement principle of modern society means: human equality and inequality depend on the individual, not on any inherent dignity. Each person can be the architect of his or her own glory (consider the notion of the " pursuit of happiness " in the United States constitution).

Once the sporting maxim was " it is more important to participate than to win ". Today, it would only be possible for sport to return to the level of human play if sport were pursued for the sake of play itself: that is, when playing is more important than winning. But this would mean a change in social behaviour in respect of sport. Unfortunately the general public does not think that it is more important to play than to win.

Play, in itself, is a meaningful communicative movement. That is how Vatican II sees it in Gaudium et Spes, citing sport as that which helps to create harmony of feeling on the level of community. But the achievement culture is a reduction of communication to the level of consumption of results. The alternation of remembering and forgetting for the sportsman - producer and consumer- is characteristic of that. The modern human being has to 'train' for the play element in sport. Of course performance and play should not be forced into an absolute antithesis. The language of play must comprise the language of performance. The reductionism of performance culture in sport is directly hierarchical: that is, result-oriented performance decides the permissible elements of play.

The reduction of communication to the level of consumption.

In Chrislian social ethics, the ordo rerum must remain subordinate to the ordo personarum. The personal element, or, in terms of social psychology, human identity, also includes subsistence or, in chronological terms, consistency and communication. In the Christian tradition the person is not an island, but realizes himself through relationships, and therefore in a communicative process. Sport is wholly a locus of communication. A series of sets of movements, which give sport its expressive power, may be interpreted as a kind of pre-linguistic or unique linguistic communication. This is true of sport itself, above all of team sport, but also on the periphery of sport. The more sport comes under the rule of goals, success and achievement, the more one- dimensional is the possible communication of the participants, and the more it obeys the will for achievement of the industrial society or of the performance society, where everyone does his or her job.

In my opinion communication and ethics form a hermeneutical circle: that is, they mutually presuppose one another. This hermeneutical circle makes it rather difficult to distinguish between descriptive levels: between, that is, the observed communication of social mediation processes, and the evaluative level, where it is decided that communication is always desirable. Let us try the descriptive level first.

The area of life known as sport represents a relatively independent system of social mediation processes, and also a relatively autonomous system of linguistic and specialist communication. If that communication is essentially performance-oriented in the sense of success and result, then communication as a form of accounting predominates.

Just think of the mass media.

The counterpart of sport as a form of result-oriented communication is a result-oriented communication for the sake of sport. This is associated with acceptance behaviour. Sport-related consumer behaviour reduces social sensitivity to the result. For the critical observer, all that counts is the tension which occurs between result and performance. The imbuing of society with sport gives rise to the sport-consumer mentality, to the consumption of results. Here consumption also has a surrogate function: the possibility of living by proxy.

Compatibility With family values and other values.

Sport is not necessarily in opposition to family values as both promote the need for a person to live in good relations with others whether of the same family or team. A family can insure an integrative life for children. However, often sport pushes for the individualisation of options and the pursuit of the individual's own success. In this sense, the compatibility of sport with family life may be an important litmus test for the ability of humanistic development through sports.

On the other hand, sport is forming " new families " or establish familiar ties between people who otherwise live together as strangers in a pluralistic society. The integration of foreign people is one of the admired possibilities of the sport associations.

I will only take the example of the importance of environmental values like sustainability. This concerns architecture and energy as needs in sport. The question of " nature " becomes more and more a new search for adequate means and for limits of human self-creation.

Sport as a mirror of the society shows the new possibilities of a culture of nature and at the same time the wide spread defects.

The question of the culture of Sunday and the other equivalent religious holidays shows an enduring conflict with sport events. But also in this case solutions are possible. They are dependent on the initiative of the involved persons and on the structures. But the Sunday is not the only question that regards religion. The relationship between sport and meditation, as well as the role of prayer in sport, needs further attention. The misuse of religious symbols as magical practices should also be further studied. Sport can also become a kind of secular religion and here the distinction of the spirit of symbols and signs must be further studied and developed also.

Developments and phenomena

The collective term 'commercialisation' comprises quite different phenomena and developments, which ultimately result in a progressive interaction of economy and sport as both leisure and competition.

This includes the industry of sports equipment and clothing and the construction of sports locations and the financing of sporting events, the establishment and maintenance of sport organizations and divisigns, and the use of sport and sports information for publicity purposes, outside and inside the sport industry, and for the financing of promotions, premiums, compensatory payments. retainers and prize money, and the economic administration of sports manufacturers and their means of production.

In general, the economisation of politics and everyday life is a growing tendency which also means the politicisation of the economy.

There is an increase in performance levels and competition. The mutual approximation of top professional sport and broad-based sport as far as performance levels and competition are concerned, means that the economisation of sport is the result of a general social development, and not an exception which can somehow be ignored.

  Economisation is a consequence of the growth system. The transition from quantitative growth to qualitative growth has been as little evident hitherto as the realization of an equilibrated economy that would obey the rules of energy saving, environmental protection and just distribution. The need for economic expansion is evident everywhere in society. Science and technology develop essentially as functions of this need (cf. media development, microbiology).

The expansion of economic structures and economically conditioned behaviour into sport is, so to speak, enforced. The sporting performance which has its 'reward' in the non-economic sector (health, the discovery of identity, social communication and recognition), gives way to a form of sport which, beyond the non-economic reward, brings payments in money or other economically convertible tokens. The sport which occurs in a non- purposeful setting of mere joy in play and communication, gives way to the demands of increased turnover (publicity, marketing): that is, it is subordinate to the economic accounting of events. Leisure sport is increasingly subject to the influence of the products which, in the shape of sports equipment, sports clothing, mega stadiums, and so on, make it more effective and at the same time aid the laws of performance and competition. Anyone who falls back materially in the main areas of mass sport (skiing, tennis) cannot keep up and is no longer a recipient for non-economic 'rewards'.

The resistance of sporting organisations on the various regional, national and international levels to these developments decreased insofar as, in addition to compulsory economisation (and internationally the distinctions between social orders play no part here as long as only growth economies are concerned). the professionalization of sport increases ineluctably. This professionalization has nothing to do with the special conditions of top professional sport but has resulted from training, organization and care in mass sport. Anyone who says 'A', that is, who is favourable to the imbuing of society with sport and to the democratization of sporting possibilities, also has to say 'B': that is, has to take sport increasingly into account as a professional career.

Naturally the consequence of this is that sport as a social service, and sport as an economic exploitation process of capital and labour, progressively reduces the partial autonomy of sport as it becomes a factor of integration in universal social developments, in which a Nobel Prize, a victory at Wimbledon and exporting a record number of motor cars have the same economic symbolic effect.

The economically and socially conditioned decrease of the partial autonomy of sport, however, which goes against the notions of a 'wholesome world' of sport that is restricted to speeches, is to be explained as a system- environment relationship. The more the selective elements of the system decrease under environmental influences, the more the system adapts to general needs and expectations, which in their turn underlie the more global form of system control. Instead of the area-specific profile. there is an increased tendency to level down at the orders of economisation, so that sport performance, the production of entertainment and scientific efficiency, and even the evangelisation of churches must obey the same rules.

Such developments can be limited by various forces, whose stability is of course exposed to the constant pressure of development: by the declaration of the partial autonomy of the sub-system in accordance with selective rules whose validity it demands for itself; by social forces which act in the name of non-economic human values and developments or obey them at least partially; by state influence, which ensures the 'freedom' of sport as much as the freedom of art and science: this is, by management of the significance of the economic valuation of products and achievements. 

The commercialization of sport depends not least of all on the fact that sport inter alia, but increasingly, is a mass media product which is to be marketed universally almost immediately, so that sport is subject to the dual rules of its own self-regulation on the one hand and its external regulation as a media commodity on the other. The more the system of sport and the mass media system are mutually involved, the more dependent they become on one another and the greater the danger that sport communication will become the mere equivalence of two economic interest camps. without any role being accorded to consideration of 'the specific values of sport' (apart perhaps from the peripheral area of fatal collisions). The greater the economisation of sport the more the non-economic needs and values (which do not have to be ethical values in and for themselves) are forced to the periphery of sport.

Discerning spirits.

Hitherto I have discussed phenomena and developments in respect of the general problem. Now I must discover some criteria for making distinctions and proceed from their basis. First of  all it is necessary to establish how far the economisation of sport answers on sport goals; social needs and material needs. This would be tantamount to a search for the correct extent of a (qualitative) economisation of sport. Secondly, we have to locate precisely where the economi- sation of sport debouches into its commercialisation; that is, where sport becomes a commodity rather than obeying its true nature. I am using economisation here in the negative sense of commercialisation. 

  Here the same criteria apply: the commercialization of sport occurs when economisation takes place at the expense of sport's true ends and when economisation takes place at the cost of social needs and values.

It seems to me that these distinctions could still be made in the pre-ethical area, if the presupposition were accepted that sport possessed its own value and an associated partial autonomy; that is, sport is not allowed to masquerade in the commodity role of an economic valuation process. The distinctions become more debatable when ethical criteria for sport (representing an ethically appropriate concern with the values of sport) are to be brought into the context of universal socio-ethical notions (of, say, Christian social teaching) for the dis- cernment of spirits.

Then it is a question (in the third instance) not only of the restriction of commercialisation within the setting of a compulsory economisation, but of the limitation of homo oeconomicus by means of a holistic conception of human beings pure and simple. That requires the introduction of positive criteria: a non-economic form of human dignity; the revaluation of non-economic needs and corresponding value orientations or basic attitudes; the proposal not only of personal but of structural alternatives to the developments described. The use of such criteria is certainly possible only in discussions with experts from other disciplines or with some other form of practical experience. In the following, therefore, I shall mention only a few examples which might help to explain the relevant criteria more effectively.

Some examples of an appropriate economisation of sport.

Aims of sport are, for instance, exercise, training in movement, pleasure in achievement, personal relations and social recognition.

Economic means and economically responsible planning are necessary to promote these goals. In so far as free economic forces co-operate in the promotion of these goals while furthering their own interests, their efficiency must also be assessed in regard to these aims.

Social needs are, for instance, help for the socially disadvantaged (e.g. sport for the handicapped, structural aid to rural areas or new urban housing projects) and an absence of information. Here too it is possible to accommodate particular economic interests ( all the more so if work can also be provided). Here it is a question of balancing the ends with the means.

Material demands include, for instance, more professionalism in training, recreation and organization. Here, in addition to balancing ends against means, it is also a matter of supporting, influencing, and balancing these same interests.

Some Examples of an inappropriate economisation of sport.

    At the expense of sporting goals and aims: if, instead of physical exercise, play, and achievement, the main concern is with the entertainment of spectators; if direct human contact is lost in favour of the isolation of individual performances; if the formation of a sports elite loses contact with the basis; if the commercialization of the promotion of achievement uses impermissible means (stress and damage to health; the use of questionable drugs); if sports medicine becomes more important than training; and so on.

At the expense of social needs and valuations: if the maintenance and origin of other leisure and cultural values are impaired; if the promotion of sport in events and broadcasts leads to competition with other needs (care for the family, personal interests): if industrial concerns promote sport but omit to humanist the work- place; if sport and care for the environment are made to compete, and so forth.

By altering the degree of material necessity: if it is only the market value of performance in sport seen as a commodity which determines its reward instead of the achievement itself, and the appropriate needs of the sports person; if the sports organization, bureaucracy, and information function solely in accordance with commercial demands; if professionalization sees its task as primarily one of serving the interests of competitive achievement and not as the increase of other sporting goals; in short: if commerce decides the aims of sport instead of the other way round.


Since human dignity is not decided by economic ends (even though it requires economic means), the following criteria have to be observed: human self-determination (e.g. should parents and educators mark out children as future sportsmen and sportswomen?); fundamental human needs (in addition to basic physiological needs, the need for personal relations, social recognition, and meaning: should success in sport downgrade superior needs?); individual and social rights (e.g. the right to an appropriate education, to the opportunity to choose one's vocation, to work as a fundamental principle of self-realisation, and so on); respect for humanity dignity as a self-explanatory goal in human relations (how far does commercialization threaten human relations, inasmuch as one's fellow human being becomes no more than a means to winning?).

Value-orientation and basic attitudes: if sport is to help make possible a 'productive' human orientation (in contrast to a 'destructive' orientation), then the following criteria have to be observed: justice as fairness'. the capacity for self-restriction; the promotion of life and environmental justice; the potentiality of peace. Such values can only be reached if human needs remain uncommercialized.

Structural alternatives: here it is a matter of establishing due proportions between the relevant criterion, the means used, and the goals of human success. This is achieved, not by appealing solely to the individual athlete who is involved. but rather, as a broad campaign that promotes the structural conditions for 'rational' sports persons.

Such considerations come to the forefront in utopias, such as an anti- or alternative Olympics. Perhaps there are less complicated instances. Unfortunately a more detailed account is beyond my competence. Nevertheless I can envisage a reduction of the unilateralism of sport by a constant introduction of new areas of competition. The foregoing are merely experimental illustrations of the relevant criteria.

The moral theologian can do no more than suggest possible criteria; he cannot provide actual solutions.


In spite of the complexity of the doping phenomenon, it is clear that the debate must not be reduced to only two factors: health protection and unfair performance enhancement. While health and fairness are important - and they remain core values of sport (see below) - they must also be seen in the context of, and in conflict with, other values; the autonomy of the mature sportsman or woman. exceeding previous limits of performance and success - faster, further, higher than before - and the feelings associated with tension in extreme situations. However, there are two very cogent ethical arguments which consider doping to be reprehensible from various points of view that I will now consider.

The contract argument.

According to this, the sportsperson has a contract with the sports organisations in participating in his sport, competitions and training, which requires him to adhere to certain rules, even if, in certain cases, these rules may appear to be questionable, wrong or unfounded.

Athletes entrust the association with this important task of drawing up lists of banned substances for performance enhancement, reduction of strain, regeneration etc., which they implicitly understand or explicitly express (e.g. in the Olympic oath). They therefore also agree with penalties if they contravene the agreement. Athletes can make this clear through a personal oath. The agreement gives them rights as well as obligations.

The argument of the inconsistency of values, rights and obligations.

This argument is taken up by sport itself, and by society, which wants sport to set an example of excellence. Sport cannot, on the one hand, claim such values, rights and obligations in theory, and on the other negate them in practice. The phenomena of commercialisation, media domination and medicalization that we have referred to are dependent on a kind of added value resulting from them to profit by them. Sport, which also gains from this, is subject to the obligation to maintain these values, rights and obligations which it demands and claims for itself. In fact its credibility depends upon it. Hypocrisy would compromise this social contract with sport.


The social contract with sport concerns the values which are inherent to sport and explain its prestige and power of attraction; the rights which active and passive participants in sport can demand to exercise; and the obligations of mutual solidarity which bind sport and a democratic society.

The values or assets on which sport is based and whose realisation is ethically relevant or, in part, ethically feasible are, in contrast to those of active participants- namely health, fitness, joie de vivre, discipline, team spirit and training opportunities- cultural values such as travel, languages, leisure etc. In relation to other participants these values are friendship, fairness, cultural integration, recognition of " otherness ", consideration for others, etc. In relation to the social status of sport, these values are setting examples in the achievement-oriented society and the solidarity-oriented society alike, cultural and training functions, integration of foreigners, the moral dimension of developments in society and their manifestations, etc.

The rights embodied in sport are self-development and self-awareness together with a voluntary commitment to the values acknowledged through participation in sport. These include: the right to the inviolability of one's own body, and to develop it according to personality and gender; the right not to be exploited; the protection of vulnerable groups (e.g. sport for the disabled); equality of access, limited only by talent and achievement and non-discriminatory; the right not to be deceived or led astray; the right to a reasonable balance between risks and success; the right not to be harmed by others (trainers, competitors, doctors, associations, media, publics; the right of active participants to take part in decision-making; and the right to share in the resources created by sport, etc.

The obligations of solidarity important to sport include preventive measures to protect the sporting nature of sport and its associated values; appropriate cultural assistance, or, where necessary, the withdrawal of such assistance; a legal framework based on subsidiarity; consideration of the social, ecological and media environment; protective measures for active and passive participants in sport; obligations of solidarity between active participants; obligations of solidarity on the part of the active participants as regards legitimate expectations.

Sports culture also involves a recipient's ethic. If the media and the public close their eyes to negative phenomena to maintain an idealised image, they invalidate their demand for trust. Instead of a covenant between society and a sport based on values, rights and obligations, there is only a sport as entertainment without responsibility.