Looking for web resources on the philosophy of sport

Just a quick update on my book. It is slowly progressing… At the moment, I’m working on a chapter for Cesar Torres’s book ‘Companion to the Philosophy of Sport’ on resources in the philosophy of sport but this will provide quite a bit of ground work for my own book. I think I have pretty much included every book on the philosophy of sport – and believe me, it is a surprisingly long list – but I’m now on the search for relevant blogs. So if you know of any then let me know. So far, I’ve got the following:

Philosophy of Sport

The most comprehensive blog dedicated to the philosophy of sport with contributions by a great many eminent scholars working in the field.


Dr Ted’s Sport and Pop Culture Blog

The blog of Professor Ted Butryn of San Jose State University, California, USA.


The Sports Ethicist

Blog dedicated to ethical issues in sport, run by Dr Shawn E. Klein of Rockford University, Illinois, USA.


Sports Technology Ethics

Blog exploring ethical issues concerned with technology in sport run by Dr Rosemary Barnes, Coombes, NSW, Australia.


The Philosophy of Sport: The basics.

I have a contract with Bloomsbury to produce a text book on the philosophy of sport. This seems quite timely as with the London 2012 Olympics, I have received many requests recently to discuss philosophical and ethical issues in sport, as well as being invited by the Royal Institute of Philosophy to give a lecture as part of their Philosophy of Sport series.

So I’m going to use this blog as a medium in which to get things going on my book. Here’s a summary of content:

The aim of this book is to provide an accessible but comprehensive guide to the main issues in the philosophy of sport. It will cover key issues, ideas and literature in the philosophy of sport, including the concept and definition of sport, the relationship between sport and the body, the aesthetic value of sport, as well as an overview of several contemporary ethical concerns in sport including doping, violence and sexual equality. This will be complemented by short interviews with experts, questions to aid revision, an extensive glossary and suggestions for further reading.

The book is due to be published sometime in 2014 – though it’ll probably be towards the end of the year.

If you’ve got any specific thoughts or questions on what’s going to be included then get in touch.

BBC Reith Lecture on Genetic Technology

I was interested to listen to Professor Michael Sandel’s perspective on the ethics of genetic technology in sport in this year’s series of Reith Lectures. Having spent three years writing my PhD thesis on the subject, for it to be brought to the forefront of public attention is welcomed. This is especially so when little real philosophical consideration is actually given to these types of issues and too much policy is dictated by an emotional gut reaction. Programmes like this highlight how philosophy is of real value in our daily lives.

And if you’re interested in hearing my views on the subject, then either visit my website and read some of my papers, or get in contact with me directly.

Coaching Violent and Dangerous Sports

I’m in the process of writing a book chapter on an edited work about ethical issues in sports coaching with Professor Stephen Olivier.

(I just gave an overview on wordpress and when I saved it, it disappeared apart from the first line above…. absolutely gutted!!)

(So, second time lucky… hopefully a shorter version.)

What we originally intended to do was to take a liberatarian position on coaching violent, dangerous and risky sports: essentially that if a person wants to put themselves at risk and in danger of serious or even fatal injury, then there is no obligation for a coach to intervene or prevent them from doing so.

However, after having thought about it for a while, I am now thinking that we may have to take a soft paternalist stance as it may be that the definition of a coach / instructor entails a certain degree of responsiblity towards those coached, even if just to make their athletes aware of the risks and the coach’s judgment of the athlete’s skill level and capacity to accurately assess their own ability and risk.

There are lots of questions all tangled up in this issue (which I wrote down earlier but I’m not going to do so again) so it may be that it becomes too much to deal with in a single book chapter.

Anyway, the reason for this blogpost is to ask if anyone had any thoughts, comments or suggested readings on this.

Why gym memberships are often unused

[This post first appeared on my myspace blog (now obsolete) in August 2006, but I thought it worthwhile keeping it and dumping it here]

After a summer of trying NOT to go to the gym, I finally succumbed and went to my local home town sweat bucket. It is a former Methodist Chapel and by my view, is worth a lot of more as a gym than it ever would as a church. But, hey that’s my atheistic sarcasm coming through. The reason I mention it is that it is the best gym that I’ve ever been to, and I’ve probably been to about 20 or so over the last 15 years. Take this morning for example: I only go when I’m down visiting my parents and I haven’t been there since Christmas, and yet nearly everyone in there remembered me and bothered to talk to me. Needless to say that an hour’s session took near-on twice as long. The thing I really like about this gym is that it has a real mix of people there from the 65 year old lady who tells everyone how she went into her bank’s local branch the other day to find that they no longer had any customer service representatives and she would have to travel an extra 5 miles to the nearest industrial estate, to the serious power lifter who is training for a national competition. This morning for instance, there was middle-aged (and overweight) woman who spent most of her time burning off calories on the rowing machine, a slim-built man in his 50s who remembered he lives in the next village to me and talked to me about how my village has a far better bus service than his, two skinny teenage brothers who were lifting lighter weights than me in an attempt to have the physique that would impress the girls, a national junior power lifting champion who told me that his band had been asked to supply one of the tracks for a video of the recent national surf championships, and a selection of other men in their 20s to 40s who helped me move my weights around and talked to me about my rugby playing days. As I said, I haven’t even set foot in this place for eight months and probably only go a few times a year. This, to me, is what a gym should really be about. There’s no flash machinery (one each of the cardio machines which are aging rapidly), no 6 screen television set-up (there is an old terristrial tv but it hasn’t been used for years), just a small environment with lots of free-weights and a few old machine weights, and a lot of very pleasant people that are always willing to chat. No wonder there are millions of people out there with little used memberships of the big impersonal clubs and fitness centres, when everyone is cocooned in their own mp3’d world and feeling like a hamster on a wheel, or worse still, a pre-programmed robot. Humans are social creatures, they need genuine social interaction to keep them motivated. Ultimately, if there were more gyms like the one that I went to this morning, the fitness of the nation would be a lot better for it.

Philosophy & Traffic Calming

This was first published a few years ago in my village paper following lots of controvery over the plans to build a traffic calming scheme. I thought I’d republish it here as it’s a perenial issue that rural villages have to deal with. It arose from a frustration that the County Council, in an attempt to solve the problem, decided to install an ‘urban’ solution in our village involving concrete kerbs and lots of steel signs – something that is antithetical to the value of living in a rural environment which allows an escape from this type of constructed space. The piece was also an attempt to spread my love of philosophy to my neighbours. Whether they appreciate it, I haven’t yet discovered.

Philosophy & Traffic Calming

For some time now, there has been controversy and dispute over the installation of traffic calming on School Hill: with some calling for more measures on other roads in the village (i.e. Greenwith Road) and others lamenting the ‘urbanisation’ of our rural highways.

So what can Philosophy offer to this debate? At the very least, although it may not provide a ‘solution’ to the problem – for the whole disagreement revolves around differences of value – it may (as the Cambridge Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, suggested) help us arrange what we already know.

The best place to start is by setting out the problem. This appears to contain several factors:
–> The quantity of traffic: too much traffic is passing through the village.
–> The speed of traffic: drivers are not complying with the statutory speed limits.
–> The noise of traffic: associated with the speed and quantity of traffic.
–> Motorised traffic and pedestrians utilising the same space: the vulnerability of pedestrians.
–> Stationary traffic: parked vehicles reducing the space and visibility of other road users.

The solution to the first two of these problems (which were viewed as the major issues) on School Hill, was provided by the County Highways Agency who installed road humps and a chicane system at the top and bottom of the hill. This however, caused considerable dissatisfaction and objections on the following grounds:

–> Safety: as there was no separate pedestrian pathway at the top chicane, pedestrians found themselves in increasing danger from traffic manoeuvring (often with disregard to the presence of pedestrians) through the chicane.

–> Damage: at both chicanes, large vehicles were damaging the verges and hedges in order to manoeuvre through.

–> Aesthetics: the use of concrete and steel structures is inappropriate in rural roads.

However, it is only the first two of these that is of concern to the Highways Agency even though the objection on aesthetic grounds may be of equal merit. To this, the Highways Agency has now responded by improving the safety of pedestrians at the top chicane with the placement of a new concrete path. This has also reduced the damage to the verges.

This issue is of philosophical interest because it is concerned with value. A problem of safety, specifically to children attending the primary school, was deemed serious enough to warrant the cost of installing traffic calming measures along this road. The value of human life, it is argued, is of paramount importance above aesthetic concerns or damage to (local) environment. However, human safety is not the only concern; otherwise the whole area would have been pedestrianed off. Human safety must be balanced against other values; i.e. providing access, allowing people to travel to work, and the economic and financial costs of changes to infrastructure.

For the residents of the area, the aesthetic issues also seem to merit importance, particularly the argument that installing concrete kerbs, paths, and humps as well as the steel signage that goes with it, detracts from the quality of living in a rural environment (which is arguably to ‘get away’ from the highly constructed space in urban areas) and is therefore unacceptable. However, the issue of aesthetics is of no concern to the highway engineer who is simply following Government protocols regarding the reduction of traffic speed, particularly in areas with vulnerable populations, e.g. school children, in residential areas.

Perhaps the question then is; should the Highways Agency (and implicitly the Government) be interested in preserving the aesthetic quality of rural roads in addition to maintaining the safety of road users? If the answer is yes, then a practical approach needs to be considered that will balance both of these needs.

In order to answer this, let us consider the utopian scenario of life on School Hill. It may be one where there is minimal traffic, which abides by the speed limit, does not intimidate or put pedestrians at risk, on a road which is devoid of concrete infrastructure, markings or steel signage. In other words, it seems to be a picture of ‘yesteryear’ that is (perhaps unfortunately) not conducive with the world we now inhabit. However, such an approach has been taken in parts of Holland and France whereby small conurbations have been stripped of all road markings, pavements and the roads have been (re)constructed from stone. This has the effect of defamiliarising the motorist who becomes hesitant with the lack of right of way at junctions and unsure whether they are in a pedestrian area and has the effect that they slow down considerably or avoid the area altogether (Arguably this has occurred to a lesser extent in Falmouth Town Centre). Nevertheless, this is a high risk and high cost strategy. It may be that once motorists become more accustomed to the layout of this environment they become complacent and compromise the safety of other road users to a greater extent than before. Such a solution would require a radical change of approach if it were implemented over here. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that motorists consider their effect on the quality of life of their (metaphorical) neighbours and reduce their journeys, reduce their speed, and be considerate to pedestrians and other roads users. This would be one way of preserving that which we value: our safety and our environment.

As stated at the outset, the purpose of this piece was simply to try to arrange what we already know in order to be clearer as to where the discontent and dissatisfaction lies. This is all that the philosopher can feasibly do. It is up to those with the power and authority to weigh up the differing values and provide a justification for the decisions that they make. Furthermore, it is up to those that grant the power and authority (the electorate and citizens) to hold the decision makers to account on the basis of these justifications. This means thinking logically and precisely about exactly what it is that is valuable and worth preserving. This is where philosophy is of use to the ‘common’ man.

Accidentally causing offence

I learnt a harsh lesson the other day. A friend that I had mentioned in one of my conference presentations had found and read the transcript and was profoundly upset by my comments. The first thing I knew about this was an email she subsequently sent me lambasting the critical remarks I had made. When I read how upset she was I felt sick; the last thing I would ever want to do is to offend a friend who I respected for the charitable and hard work she had shown to an impoverished group of African children. And what made it all the worse was that the offensive comments I had made were the result of an informal interview with her in order to get my facts as straight as possible.

Essentially the points I made were regarding the concept of sport as aid. I thought that I had constructed a reasonably sound argument criticising the view that sport was an effective form of development aid. Unfortunately, I neglected to take into account that academic arguments do not occupy the same space as human beings that have emotions and feelings. My criticism of my friend’s work, which I conceded she carried out in good faith and with honourable intentions (though this was edited out in the shorter version of the paper which she had read), was taken as a personal slight, and was made all the worse as she believed that I had intentionally taken advantage of her honesty in our informal conversations. I later realised the implications of my criticism in that using her as a real rather than hypothetical example could directly affect and undermine her charitable work. It is one thing to propose an academic argument and yet another to see the negative consequences it could have in the real world. And although I still believe that my argument holds tight, the adverse effect it could have on a hardworking and well intentioned friend brought home an discomforting truth. Words can hurt.

So what was the end result of this? I admitted I had made a naive and thoughtless mistake and I apologised as best I could. I also deleted the transcript of the presentation immediately and permanently. This wasn’t a cop-out. Having reread the paper, I genuinely believe that it doesn’t accurately represent my views; predominantly because it was a quickly edited version of a longer paper (which is still online) and hence much of the carefully worded and nuanced argument was omitted.

And I still wish to make a public apology for any offence I may have caused both Emma and Deena and their charity, Friends of Rwandian Rugby. I respect you both and the motivation for your work in Rwanda even if I still hold reservations about the concepts behind this kind of charity itself.