Human or inhumane performances? Sport’s intricate relationship with doping

In Swedish

Erik Thosteman
History of Ideas, University of Gothenburg

Through the history of sports, stretching from the founding of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) in the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, there has been a conflict of interest incorporated in the idea of the amateur athlete. The amateuristic ideal, primarily devised by Pierre de Coubertin, is on the one hand grounded in the view of sports as a morally upbringing practice, making amateur athletes come together all across the world participating in competitions with fair conditions. On the other hand, the ideal rests on the notion of sports as a transcending practice aimed to enhance performance, which is also built-in in the logic of competition.

By investigating parts of the history of doping in sports, this article discusses that the international sports organizations (IOC, IAAF) have been handling the problem of doping by prohibiting athletes to consume different chemical substances and other types of performance enhancing activities, and how they have supported these decisions with arguments based on notions of what is natural for the human body and what is to be considered artificial. Presenting a couple of post- and transhumanistic theorists, this article puts forward that through the biotechnical discourse, and through the informatization of the body, it is possible to define the body in terms of information that is medically measurable. This has a direct impact on how the human body is perceived in relation to sports and doping.

Finally, by critically examining a recent case of the South African runner Castor Semenya, the article discusses that the view of the body as information, and the striving of IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to determine what is to be considered legitimate hormonal values for an athlete, rather than bringing clarity makes it harder to understand and define what the human body really is.

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ERIK THOSTEMAN is currently studying at the Critical Studies Master’s Programme at the University of Gothenburg. His earlier writings have dealt with Swedish political history as well as general philosophy of history and science. His academic background consists of a bachelor in History of Ideas and studies in philosophy, and is generally characterized by critical theory.