Monday, 14 May 2012

The Faustian Olympics

Goldman’s dilemma. Bob Goldman, began asking elite athletes in the 1980s whether they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal but would also kill them within five years. More than half of the athletes said yes. When he repeated the survey biannually for the next decade, the results were always the same. About half of the athletes were quite ready to take the bargain.

Back in 2009, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a report where Goldman’s dilemma was tested on members of the Australian public.

Goldman's dilemma was tested by random telephone survey of 250 members of the Australian general public. Subjects were asked whether they would take the Faustian bargain of a drug that guaranteed sporting success but would result in their death in 5 years' time.

Only two of a sample of 250 reported they would take the bargain offered by the dilemma.

Conclusions: Athletes differ markedly from the general population in response to the dilemma. This raises significant practical and ethical dilemmas for athlete support personnel. The psychometry of the dilemma needs to be established more comprehensively for general and athlete populations.

Okay, athletes saying they would take the Faustian pact is not the same as actually taking it. Even so, it is an interesting admission by half the athletes questioned and for all we know the other half were not being honest.

Large-scale, state of the art drug testing is an essential part of the modern Olympics. We know that and seem to accept it, but why?

Considering the cost, the policing, the military hardware, disruption, corruption and the frankly demeaning circus atmosphere - what do we get from the Olympics? Add in the drugs issue and doesn’t it all begin to look a little tacky?


Sam Vega said...

Very interesting research findings. I guess the difference between the olympians and the rest of us is down to one of two things. Either they are the attention-hungry alpha types who are driven to do all the training in the first place, or they somehow get addicted to the adulation, once it starts.

There is an expression "He's the sort of person who'd kill himself to win a bet!". (I believe it originates in Wales.) This comes very close to what it means.

This issue also raises interesting questions as to what is meant by "rationality". Can these athletes make a rational choice if they don't know how quickly the olympic glory fades after winning? A year after winning, people have stopped slapping you on the back, the medal is rapidly becoming part of the furniture, and Mephistopheles is colonising your mind like a virus...

A K Haart said...

Sam - I'm in two minds about the rational aspect.

In some ways it's a long odds bet - reach the top in a mainstream event and you could make a lucrative career of it, but most don't get that far and many events are not mainstream.

The drugs and health risks suggest to me that you are right about the addiction side of it.