End the Olympics

Says William Buiter:

I won’t be watching the Olympics this year. A sufficient reason for this decision is that the spectacle is just not interesting anymore, because most of the time I don’t know what I am watching. Is it a competition between athletes or some convolution of a competition between athletes and a contest between pharmaceutical labs trying to find the optimal combination of illegal performance enhancement and likelihood of detection?

I would certainly be interested in following a competition between different teams of researchers to find new performance-enhancing drugs. But I would not want to watch this live on television. The competition would involve studying the ranking of academic departments in the fields of pharmacology, chemistry and associated bio-medical sciences, the evaluation of peer-reviewed research papers and of replicable lab results, and reviewing market analysts’ assessments of the leading biomedical and drugs companies.

This does not make for good spectator sport, however. Only the sad individuals who get a buzz out of watching chess, darts or golf on television could could find live broadcasts of competitive pharmacological research exciting.

Among the other reasons he gives, the nationalism bothers me the most. Why does it matter so much that the US win the gold in basketball? The best players from all over the world already play in the NBA.

I'd be okay with reducing the Olympics to an international women's beach volleyball competition.

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Heh. Ditto.

Heh. Ditto.

Walking pharmacies

I've made this into an entry.

Athletes start out with greater and worse physical endowments. One man's body may simply produce more testosterone than another man's body. What is, in principle, wrong with the second man artificially topping up his testosterone to match the first man's? What, for that matter, is wrong with the first man's artificially increasing his testosterone even further? If his unusual natural endowment is okay and presumably would be okay if it were even more unusual, then why wouldn't it be okay for him to use artificial means to achieve the same end?

The question - is it a competition between athletes or a competition between drug companies - has an analogous question - is it a competition between athletes or is it a competition between parents/grandparents/great granparents, who supply the genetic code? When parents start consciously enhancing the genetics of their offspring, then this will be just as artificial as an athlete shooting up before a contest. But now compare this scenario to the present: how is the genetically manipulated offspring of parents any less worthy of participating in an athletic competition than the unmanipulated offspring?

Yes, I know that shooting up is unhealthy for the athletes, but that's a separate objection. I'm addressing the objection I see here.

I do have an idea what's going on, why the objection. It's not that athletes are hurting themselves with drugs. Sports injuries have always been the price of participation in sports. Sporting is dangerous and it can destroy lives. Always has been, for the simple reason that sports stretch people to their limit.

And it's not that people who shoot up are "cheating". It is cheating, after all, only because it's against the rules, and it's against the rules only because people are uncomfortable with it. So it's the discomfort that makes drug users into cheaters; it's not some pre-existing fact that it's cheating that makes people uncomfortable with it.

People object to it because people who shoot up are no longer human, or no longer merely human. The same would be true of genetically enhanced athletes. People who are perfectly happy to acknowledge the greatness of an athlete who has obviously superior inborn genetic endowments to their own, are less happy to acknowledge the greatness of an athlete whose superior "endowments" were purchased from a laboratory, because the mystical bond of common humanity is lost once the enhanced ability comes from a needle rather than from the parents' gametes.

And meanwhile, Americans cheer on other Americans because of the mystical bond of common Americanness.

It's the same reason in both cases.

Wait a second: Buiter didn't

Wait a second: Buiter didn't explain why we can't look at spectator sports as a form of competition between different teams of researchers to find new performance-enhancing drugs. True, this form may not always be as exacting or as accurate as peer-reviewed research, but it's a hell of a lot more fun to watch, it may be good enough for the purposes we are trying to achieve, and in some cases, it might even produce better results. Testing products out in the real world through competition with each other does have certain advantages over peer reviewed research, and not just from an entertainment perspective. Computer programmers and robotics engineers do this stuff all the time.

Not only that, but lets not forget all the positive externalities (again, apart from pure spectator entertainment) that accrue from these competitions. Sponsors may fund the research if they know lots of people will be watching the final competition and the advertisements plastered all over the contestants (think NASCAR). What better way to get funding for important scientific research of performance enhancing drugs! If only we could devise a spectator sport between who has the most enjoyable (and safest) hallucinogenic experience. Or maybe that's what trippy art and music are for?

Pharmacuticals Aside

I've acquired an Anti-Olympic mindset simply from the escalating cost the various cities incur from trying to host the games. The equivalent of graft and bribes are payed out to the Olympic committee by what amounts to a private company to bias the selection of a particular city. The private corporation sponsoring the selection for a particular city that finally wins the competition then starts making money by licensing products and making deals with the various levels of governments so that they will start building new infrastructure for the events and housing of the athletes. These projects seem to invariably run into massive cost overruns meaning that the local governments end up paying for the new infrastructure which they wouldn't have needed or might have built over several years but suddenly needed all at once.

Economically, it's becoming too much of a burden for local governments to support.

And, yes, I'm speaking as a citizen of Vancouver, BC, where we've just been told that the local city government is going to have to shoulder the major part of the cost of the 2010 Olympic housing project along with all the other new skating, curling, etc., infrastructure. What a debacle.

At this point, I don't care if you're dealing with a professional or so called amateur sport, the profits are made by some private corporation while the public governments are saddled with the cost of providing the venues and support. It's just plain wrong.