Thursday, February 5, 2009

Does the compulsory reporting system violate athlete autonomy?

Here is the part of the article by Hanstad and Loland that I feel is a little weak in its analysis.

The relevant point that Foucault was making in his discussions of surveillance was not that it was "a Big Brother-system where the athletes are being watched covertly", but that those under surveillance felt as if that surveillance was constant. That is they took on the role of controlling themselves as they felt they were being constantly watched. Hanstad and Loland seems to miss this point when they dismiss objections to the whereabouts system.

Does the compulsory reporting system violate athlete autonomy?

The discussion on fairness and justice is also connected to questions regarding principles of autonomy and the right to self-determination. Even if elite athletes accept strict rules in anti-doping work, it seems clear that the compulsory whereabouts system is pushing the limits in terms of athlete privacy. A Norwegian Olympic medallist reported in our study:

It is a system that is based on everyone being sinners. It is created by people with good intentions and a decent goal, but they miss completely and abuse their power in a way that in no other democratic organ than sports would ever achieve approval. Systems like these belong in very different political systems than that which is called democracy.

Another athlete called it an encroachment and considered the system an infringement on their right to move freely and live a spontaneous life. In the Norwegian study, one out of four athletes responded that the joy of elite sport is reduced by anti-doping surveillance and measures such as this one. One athlete went further and claimed that after the new restrictions it will be a relief to quit. And every fourth athlete strongly supported the claim that this was a “Big Brother system”. Such a perception is strengthened by the system not only affecting the individual's life as an athlete, but also their whole lives, as athletes are monitored all year round, also in leisure and holidays. In an interview with the newspaper Expressen, the Swedish Olympic heptathlon champion, Carolina Kluumlft, said that the system is turning her into a nervous wreck: “it is bloody uncomfortable to know that my sloppiness and my spontaneity can make me equivalent to someone who uses drugs” (Roos, 2006). Half jokingly, she suggested having a data chip implanted into her body so that the doping controllers could monitor her at all times!

The reactions to the compulsory reporting system as unacceptable surveillance and infringements on privacy and autonomy seem more cogent than the criticism about justice. Athlete frustrations are understandable. The life of a high-profile athlete is one of intense pressure, characterized by routines from morning to evening. They are part of a team where each individual athlete has to relate to the support system that can consist of coaches, managers, physiotherapists, masseurs, nutritional experts, psychologists, and technologists. Furthermore, the media and sponsors require their attention. Athletes' quest for some privacy in their spare time is not unreasonable. But again there is a need for clarification on ideas of autonomy and the right to privacy and self-determination.

The understanding of human beings as autonomous is fundamental in the Western world and a central theme in fields such as political philosophy, law, and ethics (Beauchamp, 1991). The understanding is based on Kantian thoughts of the human being as a potentially free and rational being who can choose without external force and consequently be held responsible for his or her own choices. The human being is viewed as a moral agent.

To claim autonomy as a moral agent in various contexts is, however, accompanied by a duty to allow other human beings the same autonomy and status. The consequences of acknowledging all human beings as moral agents will often lead to regulation of behaviour and limitations of individual choice. For example, every liberal, democratic society has more or less tight safety nets to safeguard autonomy and the right to self-determination for individuals in vulnerable situations: the chronically ill, the unemployed, people with different kinds of disabilities. In most of our social institutions and practices, we find a number of limitations on individual choices. Whether we are talking about traffic regulations, surveillance in the public sphere or anti-doping regulations in sport, an important part of the justification is to look after all individuals' freedom of choice - their autonomy.

However, the need to regulate can go too far. In modern societies, surveillance regimes have increased in scope and complexity. In the globalized, high-tech Western world, each individual leaves a large number of electronic traces every day. Internet use and emails can be tracked, card companies know when and where we shop, the telecommunications companies possess detailed information about phone conversations and public video surveillance, and automatic toll recorders register our movements.

These developments are controversial and are criticized. Foucault's work on surveillance and punishment forms one critical approach to this system of surveillance. For Foucault, the panoptic prison appears as a model for development in Western society (Foucault, 1977). At the end of the 1700s, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham drew towards the model prison Panopticon, designed to keep prisoners under constant visual surveillance. The intentions were good, in that punishment was no longer to be seen as revenge and banishment to dark cells, but rather should build on humanity and serve the good of society. But Foucault points to the opposite consequences. Constant surveillance brings far more subtle, disciplining, and “normalizing” processes that more effectively than ever reduce the individual's opportunity for autonomy and right to self-determination.

As such, it is a paradox that a study from 2005 shows that the Norwegian population in general is hardly worried about abuse of personal information of this kind (Ravlum, 2005). This may be due to limited knowledge of how extensive this control actually is, but it may also reflect the fact that everyday surveillance of individuals takes a passive form (Fornyings- og administrasjonsdepartementet, 2006).

The reactions are stronger where the surveillance is obvious or where it demands an active contribution from the person under surveillance. One example is electronic “tagging” of prisoners. In some countries, prisoners can serve their sentence in their home by carrying an electronic ankle bracelet that makes it possible to track all movement. In Norway, draft legislation proposes that violent stalkers can be equipped with electronic devices that give an alarm if the person approaches a potential victim (Justis- og politidepartementet, 2006). Another example is compulsory reporting, which demands an active contribution from the person being watched. There are, in particular, two groups who have such obligations: some convicted felons who are to be controlled before or after serving their sentence, and elite athletes.

Initially, athletes have committed no crime or rule violation but have to meet the demands of compulsory whereabouts reporting just because they might violate the rules. This is without doubt unusual. Our survey results also indicate that some athletes see the compulsory reporting as even more problematic than the surveillance of everyday life. But the comparison brings forth two significant differences from everyday surveillance that might be cited in support of the whereabouts system. First, athletes themselves have to submit all the information about where they are, and second, violation of the regulations is followed by clearly defined consequences. This can hardly be described as a Big Brother-system where the athletes are being watched covertly. The whereabouts system is clearly detectable and open, and all athletes know the consequences of violation. There is a difference here between the criminal being electronically monitored as well, since athletes can withdraw from the surveillance. The point argued by, among others, Rune Andersen of the WADA, of sport as a voluntary practice in this fundamental sense is a relevant one.

On these grounds, it is difficult to claim that the system involves any violations of the athletes' autonomy and right to self-determination. Quite the opposite: compulsory reporting of whereabouts will make the anti-doping work more effective. If anti-doping work in general protects the athletes' autonomy and right to self-determination, the whereabouts system will strengthen these values.

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