Keynote abstract, John Hoberman

Sport and the Doping of Everyday Life

John Hoberman, Professor, University of Texas at Austin, USA

Investigating the relationship between sports doping and the doping of human activities outside the sports world is the ultimate doping problem, because it threatens to dissolve the line that separates a traditionally honored “spirit of sport” from the motivations that drive other human performances, such as productive thinking or musical virtuosity.  Demoting “the spirit of sport” from its special status in our ethical pantheon would signal a transformation of this global subculture and thereby subject it to potentially unlimited technological innovations aimed at boosting performance. This development seems plausible given the authority (if not the total hegemony) of the performance principle (Leistungsprinzip) that drives our technological civilization. Whole sectors of modern life are driven by a perpetual and constantly adapting enhancement process that does not allow for self-reflection on the part of the competitors.

The abolition of a unique “spirit of sport” is thinkable, because it is tempting to assume that the performance principle driving our technological civilization is unitary and indivisible, and for that reason its authority applies equally to the full spectrum of human endeavors. The selective indignation that stigmatizes sports doping while tolerating, for example, pharmacologically influenced literary products does not seem to be rooted in any logic that would justify such a distinction.

The rhetorical function of this conundrum has been to support calls for the legalization of doping. Pointing to the broad spectrum of enhancement techniques that have become commonplace in non-sportive and socially significant performances is an implicit challenge to the special exception that has long been granted to sport. In recent years this challenge to the special exception has been strengthened by an unprecedented acknowledgement of how corrupt entire sectors of the sports world have become, for that which is profane cannot also be sacred. It is, therefore, all the more interesting that the anti-doping campaign in global sport has intensified, rather than collapsed, in response to unprecedented and damning knowledge about pandemic doping and an unprecedented crisis of global sports governance.