Fair Fights and Foul: Competition Categories and Human Rights in Sport

This paper was mostly written in June 2021 and has undergone a number of revisions since then. It has been sent to several journals, but it seems impossible to publish. So it is here.

Abstract: If sport is understood as a contest between human individuals on the basis of developed bodily movement involving skill, strength, and/or endurance, excellence in sport is fundamentally dependent on a principle of fairness in competition. Inclusion matters because arbitrary limitation of competition excludes practice-valuable challenges and excellence is inhibited. The same logic of fairness must also rule out competition sufficiently unbalanced as to distort either that development or the results; mismatches produce no certainty in assessment and little excellence, but only hollow champions. Given the advisability of a general policy of inclusion as well as a commitment to fairness in practice, we need to distinguish eligibility for sport in general from eligibility within sport, i.e., for specific sporting contests. In addition, the plausibility of a right to the good of sport and how such rights can be framed in a society with a social and procedural commitment to fairness is examined. Finally, while the focus of this analysis is on any type of physiological imbalance that unfairly disadvantages competitors, it is applied briefly to the question of transwomen’s inclusion in the women’s category in sport, since this issue covers all of these elements of inclusion, eligibility, rights, goods, and fairness.

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