The ‘I’ Words: Integrity, Indignation and Ilinx


I have been left numbed and perplexed by a number of the recent, public announcements about cheating in sport.

Numbed after a lifetime in sport hoping for fairness. Perplexed by why the revelations are surprising.

A great deal has been said of late about the Integrity of Sport.

In the last two weeks, my antidote has been to admire the performances of two exemplary sportsmen: George Bailey and Adam Voges. Both scored delightful centuries in one-day cricket internationals against the West Indies.

Between these two occasions, I revisited a paper by Lois Bryson from 1990. Her paper was written two years after the Seoul Olympics and the 9.79 Race. In it she argues:

We have now reached a stage where we need to take a cold hard look at how sustainable are the traditional sporting values, at least in elite sport. What we see happening with drug taking is a logical extension of rationalist principles. In its intent, the improvement of performance, drug taking is no different from the development of scientifically tested exercise and training programs, diet and vitamin regimes, psychological preparation and the like. All violate the historic ‘amateur code’ so central to the framing of modern sport last century.

Lois was writing after the Australian Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts delivered a Drugs and Sport Interim Report (1989) and Second Report (1990).  She concludes her paper:

A broad analysis of the historical and institutional underpinnings of sport make it obvious that if we were to aim to change the situation more than to merely keep drug use under some reasonable level of control, quite fundamental changes would be necessary. This would require a focus away from profit making and competition, away from expansive rewards, both material and symbolic, towards the style of cooperative sport …


The spate of revelations about cheating in sport were focussed in Australia last week by a very public press conference to announce a Report from the Australian Crime Commission, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport. (I wrote about the Report here.)

I note that the Report asserted:

some coaches, sports scientists and support staff of elite athletes have orchestrated and/or condoned the use of prohibited substances.

Some sports scientists have indicated a preparedness to administer substances to elite athletes which are untested or not yet approved for human use.

3403919290_7119bb655a_oThe verb ‘orchestrate‘ and the noun ‘preparedness‘ struck me very forcefully. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘preparedness’ as “a state of readiness, especially for war”. This led me back not only to Gregory Stone’s 1955 paper but to George Orwell (1945):

At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue

and Arnold Lunn‘s “selective indignation”. Edward Smyth writes of Arnold Lunn:

He particularly disliked what he used to describe as ‘selective indignation’ – meaning to condemn in the weak what is condoned in the strong. On such a basis he fought his long fight with the Olympic Committee against ‘shamateurism’

A post by Tracey Holmes in The Drum brought me back to this week and current events.  She noted:

Once again, we are pushing into a corner a group of young Australians called athletes. We idolise them and demonise them in equal measure. They are discouraged from drinking, taking drugs (either socially or to rid themselves of pain), gambling and generally living the Australian lifestyle. When they fail to live up to expectations that most of us would never subscribe to, we vilify them.

She adds:

If we are totally honest, how can sport not be untainted by chemists who dodge the system and criminal gangs who launder money? Sport is a multi-billion dollar business. The International Herald Tribune reports that $3 billion a day is gambled on sport. Media organisations pay huge fees for the right to broadcast sport and they, like the athletes, are sponsored by betting agencies. It is in the interest of sponsors, media and clubs to win since in the end, this is not a community sport-for-all program we are talking about. It is a professional, profit driven industry.


Back in 1958, Roger Caillois wrote about Man, Play and Games. In it, he included a classification of games that were characterised by ‘ilinx‘. These games:

…are based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.

Ilinx was one of four forms of games identified by Caillois. A Wikipedia article on the 1961 translation of the 1958 French text points out that these forms of play take place:

on a continuum from ludus, structured activities with explicit rules (games), to paidia, unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness), although in human affairs the tendency is always to turn paidia into ludus, and that established rules are also subject to the pressures of paidia.

It is fascinating to think that “It is this process of rule-forming and re-forming that may be used to account for the apparent instability of cultures”.


It has been quite a week for ‘I’ words. Current events have returned me to a literature that goes back to 1945. I am grateful to George and Adam for changing the tempo of the week and for re-affirming that innocent play, games and sport can have remarkable qualities and cultural resonance.

I am mindful, however, that notwithstanding the full force of the law indicated in the legal aspects of the ACC investigation, rules, although intended to bring about conformity, do bring about a different kind of non-conformity.

This evening, Stephen Dank is being interviewed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. It will be interesting to hear his version of events.  I am hoping for a fourth ‘i’ word, Insight.

Photo Credits

Australian Rules Football (Step, CC BY 2.0)

The Australian Olympic Team at the Olympic Stadium, Los Angeles, 1932 (State Library of New South Wales, no known copyright restrictions)




Perhaps it is a product of age but I hope not.

The product … a commitment to the integrity of sport through an absolute acceptance of the rules and laws of games.

Last week I wrote about the play spirit that connects us in games and sport. I think it is an immensely powerful connection.

Reading USADA’s report on the Lance Armstrong investigation was an overwhelming reminder that rules do not bring about conformity but a different kind of non-conformity. I wondered naively why any athlete would seek to dope if our contract in sport is with the essence of playfulness.

I do struggle with arguments that emphasise that “there is a lot at stake” to rationalise any form of cheating. I am nervous that such arguments transform our threshold of repugnance (Elias) and increase our selective indignation (Lunn).

I did like Matt Hickey’s take on these issues in a Drum post. He observes “Winning isn’t everything, but the existing incentive structure for athletes certainly places a large emphasis on it – and it comes with increasingly large costs”.

My hope is that we can address the incentive structure in all sport, starting with the nation state. In my naivety I do hope we have gone beyond equating winning in international competition as an index of status. I wonder if we might develop an alternative indicator … evidence of athletes, coaches and scientists working to support acceptance of the laws and rules of games. What a remarkable sport system we would have without a Prisoner’s Dilemma.


Photo Credit

Rainbow Valley