Picture this: You live in Uzbekistan and have a child who has just turned 10 years old. You are curious about whether or not your child will have a propensity for athleticism. In fact, you are hoping he will be the next Michael Phelps (sans drug abuse, of course).
Well, there is no need to sit there speculating. A simple blood test for your child may be all it takes to know for certain if you have given birth to the next most-decorated-gold-medalist-super-champ of the world.
Rustam Muhamedov, director of a genetics laboratory at Uzbekistan’s Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, has announced genetic testing will be provided for children starting at the tender age of 10. It will be overseen by Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, in cooperation with—get this—the National Olympic Committee, and testing will be “implemented in practice” by early 2015.
For two years, the laboratory analyzed the genes of athletic champs and concluded that a set of 50 genes will determine which sports are best suited for your child. For example, if your daughter has the tennis-related gene, she will be nurtured and molded into the next Venus Williams. If your son has the basketball-associated gene, his talent can be properly cultivated and you may just end up with the next Steve Nash on your hands.
I’ll give you a second to process that information…
What am I thinking? If scientists can figure out which children have the genes that ensure athletic superiority, what’s stopping them from breeding genetically perfect super-athletes? Talk about natural selection… Does this classify as sports selection? I have several bones to pick regarding the moral, legal and ethical issues genetic testing presents, but for the sake of the length of this post, I’ll focus on the athletic advantage (or disadvantage) this practice endorses.
If a 10-year-old is found to be the possessor of soccer-associated gene, s/he will most likely endure a life of training specifically in that sport. What if the kid has the ability to excel at soccer but does not have the desire to play the sport? Will sponsors, associations and his or her parents take into account a child’s admission that he or she would much rather dance than play soccer? And what about children who are found to be devoid of any sports-miracle-gene but have an insatiable desire to participate in sports? Will they receive the same amount of attention? Will their passions be taken seriously, or will they be dismissed because their genetic makeup has predetermined they do not have what it takes to be the absolute best in the game?
My greatest worry is that fame-crazed parents and sports associations will take this molecular science and exploit it in the worst way, for example, by creating an army of super-athletes whose genes will guarantee they have the finesse, endurance and muscular capacity to leave all other, er… mere mortals in the dust. How then, would the playing field be levelled? Would the definition of competition have to be reconsidered to make concessions for super-athletes?
I suppose I may be getting ahead of myself; however, I don’t feel these concerns are outlandish by any means. Considering modern science’s trajectory, there really is no telling where our desire for maximizing potential will take us.
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