the sports police+judiciary, parallax view

From the World Anti-Doping Agency yesterday:

"WADA announced that it had approved a Memorandum of Understanding formalizing its cooperation with Interpol, the world’s largest police organization. This Memorandum of Understanding, approved by Interpol at its October 2008 General Assembly, provides a framework for cooperation between the two organizations in tackling doping, in particular in the areas of evidence gathering and information sharing."

* * *

Indeed, we must recognize that since the eight-year window essentially renders the current winners temporary, the boundaries of the competition space mutate over time to match the shape not only of the stadium, the testing lab, and the specimen storage facility, but also of the sites of out-of-competition testing and the transportation and transmission vectors through which these flows of human corporeality and competitive uncertainty travel. Qualitatively, this suggests that Bale’s formal conception of the contemporary sports stadium must be revisioned as a topological figure to account for this mutability and the social relations these changing spatial configurations produce in a shift from the optics of surveillance to the haptics of control. The potential vulnerabilities that exist in this topological model as competition moves out of the stadium and into smooth space should also be understood in a technical sense from both material and immaterial perspectives. Not only do anti-doping authorities need to secure samples from intruders, chemical change, etc., but they must also secure the data once it has crossed the threshold from the biological to the electromagnetic. And not only is that data susceptible to interception during transmission, but the physical storage devices that enable database mining and statistical regression are themselves vulnerable, given their "penchant for remanence."

Smith, S. (2008). WADA as sporting Empire: Prospects and shadows. Pathways: Critiques and Discourse in Olympic Research—Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium for Olympic Research, Beijing, CHN.

Asymmetrical Relations

Almost exclusively, the modern sport project is founded upon the principle of symmetrical relations between competitors. We can understand this desire for symmetry along many dimensions, all of them instrumental. First, we can understand symmetry in terms of body composition, as in weight class, gender, disability, etc. This usually has to do with the question of produced force: in combat sports we separate by weight class so that the "weaker" opponent does not get hurt, while males and females usually do not play together due to perceived differences in strength. A useful contrast may be made here with the Japanese sport of sumo, in which all weight classes compete against one another in combinations of power and speed that do not privilege one over the other.

In theory, symmetrical relations also means that the same equipment is used by each athlete or team, though in practice this is a highly contentious area of sport. For example, the controversy over asymmetry in the 1988 America's Cup sailing regatta regarding what boats could and could not be used resulted in a New York State Supreme Court challenge. On a less dramatic scale, we might consider the new swimsuits developed by Speedo, which may only be available to certain athletes for the Beijing Olympics this summer, giving them a decided advantage in the pool.

And as the instrumentality of technology physically integrates with that of the body, things become even more problematic. Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee sprinter from South Africa, had to take his case to the world Court of Arbitration for Sport in order to be allowed to compete against able-bodied runners, since the International Olympic Committee had previously ruled that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair biomechanical advantage in terms of energy return per stride. But David Howe of Loughborough University makes the interesting case that Pistorius' eligibility to compete against able-bodied runners in Beijing and beyond is immaterial; the real travesty, rather, is that as a double amputee (and thus possessing a smooth, symmetrical stride) Pistorius has been able to hone his skills in competition against single amputee sprinters (and their awkward asymmetrical gait).

As we further delve into into the question of symmetrical athletic bodies, we find the World Anti-Doping Agency. Any asymmetries arising in athletic competition must be grounded within the unitary athletic body in its genetic predisposition, refined through aptitude and hard work, and expressed through the poiesis of sporting performance. Substances, methods and other enabling technologies are permissible in this ethic of sport so long as they are supplementary to the organic unity of the athletic body and do not penetrate or pollute. And WADA claims the sovereign right to penetrate athletic bodies to make sure that such a symmetry persists.

Finally, we might understand symmetrical relations in terms of the number of athletes competing against one another in team sports. Every modern sport form first codifies in its rules the exact number of athletes that may compete for each team. In ice hockey, rugby league and other sports, one of the gravest threats is to have a player taken off the field and sent to the penalty box (or "sin bin") for their transgressions, forcing a numerical asymmetry. Here, useful contrasts may be drawn with the postmodern form of professional WWE-style wrestling, in which two or three wrestlers will routinely gang up against another. More grounded in modern sporting forms, the Situationist Asger Jorn critiqued this very principle of symmetry and its basis in binary thinking with his three-sided soccer.

In basketball, there is no such thing as a penalty box, though it is not impossible for there to be a numerical discrepancy in players. Once a player earns five fouls (six in the NBA), they are ejected from the game and a different player may substitute in their stead. But if there is no substitute available, either because too many players have fouled out, because of injuries, or because the roster was incomplete in the first place, then the offending team is forced to play at a numerical disadvantage. This happens rarely in major, sanctioned league competition, but occurs quite often in less formal men's and women's recreational leagues since a team might only begin a game with 5 or 6 players.

This is not to suggest that it is necessarily better to be the team with the numerical advantage in such a situation. In fact, quite often it is the opposite since the team with extra players over-passes the ball in order to get a perfect shot, and ends up thinking rather than reacting. I can recall winning a game in men's league with three healthy players and one playing on one leg due to a severe hamstring pull, since the other team couldn't figure out how to take advantage of the situation.

But all of this is all about a particular structural form of competition. In pickup basketball, on the other hand, competition can be equally as valued, yet not as obsessive about symmetrical relations. The pickup game is always already asymmetrical by virtue of those who participate on any given occasion.

6:45 a.m., New City YMCA, Chicago
No one in this gym knows I'm keeping a "diary."
No one knows what I do for a living.
No one knows how old I am. Unless someone checks to see whether I wear a wedding band — and guys don't generally look for that kind of thing — no one knows whether I'm married.
No one knows if I have kids. Or siblings. They don't know if my parents are still alive.
What kind of car do I drive? Or do I walk to the gym? Where exactly do I live?
No one has asked. No one cares. We don't talk about it.
And that's just fine.
If we were to talk, I'm sure we would find that some of us have a lot in common — kids, jobs, interests. Some of us might become permanent friends. Happens all the time, on the court and off.
But we don't talk.
We share one interest, intensely, for about one hour, twice a week. We talk about as much as we need to. Some friendly greetings before the game, and then the chatter of the game — "nice pass … check … ball's in … foul! …"
We generally try to learn our teammates' first names before a game starts, but we don't always remember them or use them. "Good finish, Jimmy" is about as personal as it gets. Over the weeks and months, faces and names tend to become more familiar, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends.
Not every pickup game is like this. But this one is. And I like it.

(Royce Webb, SportsJones)

In modern sport, despite the best efforts of authorities, relations can never be fully symmetrical no matter how much they are codified in language. But in the case of pickup basketball, a temporary community in which the only thing in common is that the players have nothing in common, the community is entered into freely as an act of mutual consent (cf. Nancy). As the basketball player has recently come to understand though, the resultant asymmetrical relations aren't too asymmetrical and that he will cherish always.

Critical Space

The Chicago Pile-1 was Enrico Fermi's first successful attempt to achieve a critical nuclear reaction, which occurred in 1942 in a squash court underneath the Stagg Stadium bleachers at the University of Chicago. The squash court was the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the pile of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor. Thus, the nuclear bomb arguably owes its genesis to a sporting space.

Chicago Pile-1

Chicago Pile-1

But a sort of inverse is true as well. The nuclear bomb has had an undeniable genealogical impact on sporting spaces and bodies, from the doping wars of Cold War sport to the contemporary climate of electronic surveillance. To a degree, these have become opposing forces: on the one hand, doping has persisted beyond the earlier impetus of nation-state governments during the Cold War to a network of individual athletes, coaches and scientists who push the biochemical and physiological limits of the body in competition, while on the other hand the same technological infrastructure (both material and immaterial) that enabled a stable communications network in the case of a nuclear attack, Cold War surveillance and the rise of intelligent machines (DeLanda) is today leveraged by the World Anti-Doping Agency in the global surveillance of world-class, high-performance athletes.

"The critical State, or, better, the Critical Space … becomes critical by virtue of the instantaneity of means of mass communication as much as through the performances of delivery vectors of massive destruction. … The function of the eye becomes simultaneously that of the arm" (Virilio, The Lost Dimension, p.130).

ADAMS' Apple

A recent announcement from the World Anti-Doping Agency informs us that:

A new SMS feature added recently to ADAMS [Anti-Doping Administration & Management System] makes it simple for athletes to submit Whereabouts updates using a mobile phone, smart phone, or PDA. While athletes are still required to enter Whereabouts into ADAMS on a quarterly basis, this new SMS feature facilitates updates, especially when Internet is not available.

. . .

The real-time availability of Whereabouts updates will help to ensure greater efficiency for both anti-doping organizations and athletes. Because Whereabouts information can be modified from anywhere, athletes have more flexibility in keeping information current.

"The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." — Genesis 2:25

The Nuclear Outcome(s)

Friedrich Kittler begins Gramophone, Film, Typewriter by pointing out that what we have referred to here as the military-industrial-entertainment complex is currently in the process of laying millions of feet of fibre optic cable, for it is the communication technology best capable of withstanding (unlike copper wire) the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear bomb.

Optical fiber networks. People will be hooked to an information channel that can be used for any medium — for the first time in history, or for its end. Once movies and music, phone calls and texts reach households via optical fiber cables, the formerly distinct media of television, radio, telephone, and mail converge, standardized by transmission frequencies and bit format. The optoelectronic channel in particular will be immune to disturbances that might randomize the pretty bit patterns behind the images and sounds. Immune, that is, to the bomb. As is well known, nuclear blasts send an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) through the usual copper cables, which would infect all connected computers.

The Pentagon is engaged in farsighted planning: only the substitution of optical fibers for metal cables can accommodate the enormous rates and volumes of bits required, spent, and celebrated by electronic warfare. All early warning systems, radar installations, missile bases, and army staffs in Europe, the opposite coast, finally will be connected to computers safe from EMP and thus will remain operational in wartime. In the meantime, pleasure is produced as a by-product: people are free to channel-surf among entertainment media. After all, fiber optics transmit all messages imaginable save for the one that counts — the bomb (p. 1).

Meanwhile, the threat of nuclear escalation and the resultant doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction also ensured that real warfare would morph into a cultural parallel. Numerous sports scholars (for example, Rob Beamish and Ian Ritchie) have detailed an overall Cold War conflict by sporting proxy and the concomitant rise of state-sponsored doping programs to technologize these warrior-athletes. The Olympic Games provided the operational theatre for this proxy war: capitalism versus communism, live on television.

We might locate the symbolic climax of the modern sport project in the two Summer Olympic Games that took place in Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984). Not only did these games augur the eventual dissolution of the superpower binary with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but they also marked the introduction of the truly corporate Olympics, with the Los Angeles Organizing Committee fully showcasing the spectacular potential of the Olympics as a cultural property sponsored by transnational capital. And from this backdrop of Cold War sport and state-sponsored doping programs emerged Ben Johnson in 1988 and the subsequent formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

We are reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's formula for the State capturing the nomadic war machine for its own purposes: "The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems" (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 355). But then as the athletic bodies deterritorialize post-Cold War to seek the newfound Olympic riches, and the nation-state formation yields to Empire, the stakes change and restricting speed or circulation of movement becomes of central importance.

It is ironic that the nuclear bomb, in its undetonated form, yields the technological lineage most responsible for the dematerialization of the human body as well as the lineage most responsible for its material recombination in the name of speed (which may be one and the same thing when viewed as a problem of semiotics). Further still, we should note that these (binary) strategies of nuclear deterrence are ultimately reduced to a universal system of security and control over the interior and exterior spaces of said bodies.

Citizens of Sporting Empire

"There is in the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth: successive metaphorizations mean that an idea becomes more — and something other — than itself: a 'form of thought'. For language thinks, thinks us and thinks for us at least as much as we think through it. And in it an exchange also takes place: an exchange, which may be symbolic, between words and ideas." — Jean Baudrillard, Passwords

Baudrillard's words assumed added significance for me this past week as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced the introduction of a "biological passport" system in cycling as a weapon in the war against doping in cycling. As ESPN writes:

The "biological passport," first announced by UCI last week, would monitor a series of blood parameters of a rider and create a medical profile that could be used for comparison after doping tests.

UCI president Pat McQuaid cautioned that the initiative, to take effect in January, will not erase the doping problem but serve as a new element in the anti-doping "arsenal" along with blood and urine tests.

"For each rider, you'll have an individual set of parameters that are his norm … his blood parameters. There is a norm — and above and below, it can only go a certain distance," he said.

Historically, a passport existed as a document from the king or queen designed to grant safe passage from one territory to another. As the Wikipedia entry points out, however, it is not the passport that guarantees these rights; rather, it is one's nationality that does. In facilitating safe passage the passport serves to demonstrate a right to nationhood, or in other words, to establish an identity.

The idea of a passport is moving beyond nationhood into other spaces, both real and virtual. An example of the latter is the Microsoft Passport universal authentication system, which allows for the safe passage of an internet surfer through a connected series of web sites. Though our physical bodies weren't moving anywhere, the idea of a system that established and safeguarded a unitary virtual identity as it navigated through the various spaces of the network intuitively made sense. (The system, which perhaps smacked of Orwellian overtones to those in the Microsoft marketing department — "Papers, please." — has recently been rebranded as Windows Live).

The question of individual identity remains central with the biological passport. VeloNews, a leading cycling website, adds:

"What is means is that the rider becomes his own reference point," UCI anti-doping coordinator Anne Gripper told Eurosport. "We look for variations in a rider's individual profile to determine whether there may be some indication of using a prohibitive method or a prohibited substance."

A normal passport contains information that identifies the individual, as well as other special features not easily duplicated (holograms, special papers and inks, etc.) that serve to establish the identity of a particular nation-state. An equivalence is drawn between individual and nation-state in the form of citizenship. As we see with Gripper's comments, there is no corresponding equivalence drawn between individual and nation-state for passports in the smooth space of sporting Empire; the equivalence is always drawn back upon itself: one person, two points in time.

The disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that designates the individual, and the number or administrative numeration that indicates his or her position within a mass. This is because the disciplines never saw any incompatibility between these two, and because at the same time power individualizes and masses together, that is, constitutes those over whom it exercises power into a body and molds the individuality of each member of that body. (Foucault saw the origin of this double charge in the pastoral power of the priest–the flock and each of its animals–but civil power moves in turn and by other means to make itself lay "priest.") In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," and masses, samples, data, markets, or "banks" (Deleuze, 1991).

Instead of the passport photo (individual) and unique identification number used in a nation of citizens (mass), the new biological passport uses an athlete's organic markers such as blood and urine (dividual), though they only make sense in comparison to a larger set of modeled data points (bank). With the photo on a traditional passport, there is a range of error between the original photographic signifier and the appearance of the individual when passing through the checkpoint (change of hair style or colour, weight gain or loss, the addition of glasses or facial hair, etc.). In this case it is contingent upon the authority securing passage through the checkpoint to interpret if the second data point falls acceptably within this range of error. As McQuaid notes above, with the biological passport system there is also a range of error between the blood or urine samples at the time of competition and the original signifier in the passport. However, this acceptable range of error is determined through statistical methods; that is, by combining samples from hundreds of athletes in a database to derive acceptable distributions into which a future data point must fall to be considered allowable. Normalization becomes adherence to a statistically-correlated cluster of data points.

In the temporality of words an almost poetic play of death and rebirth … Baudrillard's words resonate anew in our present discussion. For in metaphorizing this particular anti-doping mechanism as a "passport", we must wonder whatever happened to the original meaning of the passport as a document that ensures safe passage through some boundary or barrier into an enclosure. What is the role of passage in the UCI's biological passport system? We are not discussing passage into the enclosed space of the sportscape; the testing takes place either out of competition or after competition is completed. So from and to where do we pass?

It appears that there is no passage anymore; with the biological passport of sporting production we have moved strictly into the realm of identification, its basis in biometrics, and a unitary identification of "normal" body performance. The occasional passage into or through some enclosed, disciplinary space provides the alibi for control to continue making its presence felt in an unnoticed fashion.

If there is still a passage to be found, it is a passage through time, referring back always to some fixed marker. UCI and WADA are basically requiring that the athlete claim passage post-competition into an "authentic" and essential identity. Today, blood and urine samples on file in the sporting battle against steroids and other pharmaceutical enhancers; tomorrow, DNA samples on file in the sporting battle against gene doping. This continual reference back to an original biological marker as identity document leads us inexorably closer to the Gattaca Scenario — and passage becomes a permanent state of immanence.