On your marks, get set, dope! Welcome to the Enhanced Games – the sporting event no one wants | Marina Hyde

    How encouraging to learn of another shot in the arm for the Enhanced Games. If you’re not familiar with it, this is the sporting event scheduled for inauguration next year in which openly drug-taking athletes will be able to take part in a “better version of the Olympic Games”. I know – imagine being able to watch track and field but with athletes who dope. Who among us can even picture it?

    None of which is to sound as offhand as World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe did a few weeks ago when he was asked about the Enhanced Games, and judged: “It’s bollocks, isn’t it? … I really don’t get sleepless nights over it, it’s not going to be a page turner is it?” I wouldn’t bank on that. By way of background, the project is the brainchild of Aron D’Souza, some weirdo businessman who doesn’t even drink coffee (of course), and is partly funded by biohacking Palantir horseman Peter Thiel and AI/psychedelics/crypto investor Christian Angermayer (double of course).

    For a time the Enhanced Games seemed to be progressing slowly, but it was recently boosted by news that a documentary about it will be jointly produced by Ridley Scott’s production company and one owned by Rob McElhenney, who famously bought Wrexham football club with Ryan Reynolds and used it as the basis for the Disney+ series Welcome to Wrexham. Can’t say I’m hugely surprised by the involvement of McElhenney – clearly a committed content farmer on a restless search for new pastures/host organisms. I expect he’ll do very well out of this, just as he’s done eye-wateringly well out of Welcome to Wrexham. (Surely a truly behind-the-scenes, access-all-areas documentary should spill the beans on Reynolds and McElhenney’s take-home pay from the project?)

    Anyway, the Enhanced Games promptly put out a casting call announcing: “We’re looking for 10 athletes to be paid stars in the documentary series.” And they’re likely to get them. This week, retired Australian swimmer James Magnussen said he would do it for US$1m, promising to “juice to the gills” and break the 50m freestyle world record. The Enhanced Games immediately confirmed it would pay. The entire thing feels like a naked attempt to “win back” that sector of disillusioned viewers who have spent years asking, “I don’t know why they don’t just let them to all take drugs and get on with it?” (Answer: it is ethically bankrupt and medically potentially fatal. But, y’know – details.)

    Ben Johnson of Canada leads the field on his way to taking the 100m semi-final during the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Steve Powell/ALLSPORT

    As for who will screen the Enhanced Games docuseries, one suspects it has Netflix written all over it (Disney+ would surely be too squeamish). The streamer has already achieved mega-success with sports-adjacent programming such as Formula 1: Drive to Survive, and sports documentaries such as David Beckham’s self-commissioned one. Netflix even has a “VP of nonfiction sports”, presumably to distinguish from the fictional ones like wrestling, in which it is also heavily investing. Would the Enhanced Games fall within his purview? Hard to say, which tells its own story about the strange blurring of this genre, where things are called documentaries but often have more in common with reality TV or unscripted drama – and sometimes with freak shows.

    The Enhanced Games would be a turbocharged version, showcasing as it does so much of the wrongness of the age – from the belief that if something makes good #content it is axiomatically freed from the shackles of morality, to a grim tech libertarian bankrolling it all, to a decidedly non-libertarian hypersensitivity about language. Please note that the Enhanced Games website classifies the terms “doping” and “cheated” as “discriminatory language”, which would certainly be one logical end of the feelings-over-facts trend of the past few years. In the meantime, the Enhanced Games bods are campaigning to rid Wikipedia of these somethingist slurs.

    Against this backdrop, anyone admiring Coe’s sang-froid should surely consider that history is littered with sports not realising the threat of things until it’s too late. The irony is that those at the top don’t seem to realise how many people in the world already judge pretty much the entire Olympics to be an “enhanced games”. However unfair that may be to many competitors, it has a large number of others bang to rights, and every Games brings new results that confirm to anyone with even a passing interest in sport that you can’t trust a lot of what you’re seeing. A 16-year-old girl swimming one of her splits faster than the men’s world champion, who’s just recorded the second fastest time in history? Do me a favour. The “unbelievable” happens so frequently that it has made a lot of it unbelievable in the other sense of the word.

    Governing bodies have aided and abetted this. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said of the Enhanced Games: “If you want to destroy any concept of fair play and fair competition in sport, this would be a good way to do it.” Mm. Another good way to do it would be by simply acting like the IOC itself, which for so many decades has showcased such blatant and sustained corruption that the very idea the event to which it is attached is free of the same was destroyed long ago.

    The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has also denounced the Enhanced Games. But it, too, is not free from discredit, when a lot of frustrated clean athletes will tell you that they believe Wada is run not in their interests, but in the interests of the states to which its IOC funders may wish to cosy up. If international bodies like these are running clean sport’s last stand, then the horse may not just have bolted – but reached 50mph, collapsed just past the winning post, and tested positive for EPO in the autopsy.

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