Human Enhancement Technologies in Sport


Westminster Palace

Originally uploaded by andymiah.

Today (ok, last week - 21 June), I attended the first session of the government inquiry into HETs in Sports. It was the first time I had visited Westminster Palace and what more suitable occasion could there have been? I have been in touch with the Committee’s secretariat these last few months, chipping in with my suggestions about possible areas of inquiry. I arrived to the Palace around 845am, after an early morning down from Liverpool. Eventually finding Committee Room 6, it was nice to see some familiar faces. The Committee had kindly reserved seats for myself and Nick Bostrom offering us an opportunity to offer some pointed observations. Typically, the celebrity speaker – Linford Christie – arrived fashionably late and it was a personal pleasure to have heard him speak on this topic. I don’t have many childhood heroes and I was hardly a child when Linford was at his peak, but he remains one of my significant others in the sports world and I still have strong memories of him lining up for the beginning of a 100m race and even his running style. He was characteristically entertaining and upbeat about the issues and I took great care to notice his reactions to the various points of debate. It struck me that this man of such great sporting achievement remains a young athlete who was passionate about something he could do very well. In some ways, athletes are the Peter Pans of our modern day, defying the ageing process and defying human limits in the process.

The debate itself was most certainly engaging and a great starting point. Julian stepped up an offered a ‘let them take drugs’ position, while some of the audience members either cringed at the thought or were frustrated at being back to the position they were in 40, 20, 8 or 5 years ago, depending what landmark you use. However, I think this Committee is ready to ask difficult questions about the legitimacy of current doping regulations and Julian's position was certainly not shouted down. In fact, I think many people in this world of sport see the current regulations as a moral crusade, which is shielding the fact that this is an unworkable situation.

I have some concerns that the points of debate will be reduced primarily to doping discussions, when I believe the form of this Inquiry should be broader. There are a number of technologies that have not yet been discussed and we need to consider those too.

Well, I don’t want to get into my specific responses here. These will be submitted to the Committee in due course. I’m just very glad that this is happening. When I met Dr Ian Gibson MP in my home city of Norwich one afternoon in July after the publication of Genetically Modified Athletes, this was the very kind of inquiry we were discussing. Unlikely though it is that our conversation led to this initiative, I’ll happily tell the story that way! (thank you very much!). After all, as Phil Wills, Chair of the Inquiry said at the beginning of this morning, this is the very first time in history that the British government has looked into such a subject. And I would have been just happy to be an ‘also-ran’.