Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ramadhan Mubarik 2008

Wishing all the readers of my blog the blessings of Ramadhan which the council of ulema have just announced will commence on the 1st September in Australia

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nurture or Nature?

As happens about this time in every Olympics, various pontificating journalists are raising the issue of why certain "races" appear to dominate certain Olympic events.

Such an argument always questionable because it does science in reverse - it starts of with an established pattern of success and then attributes it to various causes. I'm particularly skeptical that genetics explain why white people dominate events such as swimming or field events. All of these - compared with sprint running for instance - require specialist training in technique from quite a young age, something usually more available to middle-class youth from developed nations. We saw an Australian win the Pole-vault - how many working class black kids in the US, let alone those in Ethiopia have the chance to receive the training in technique he has got? Similarly, swimming is starting to see athletes from Japan and South Korea coming through - are we supposed to believe that it is a coincidence that these nations are among the wealthiest non-European based nations in the world? Or will we invent some new genetic theory that these "races" are better at swimming? The physical shape of champion swimmers is not very typical of most white people either - those huge shoulders (especially among women) are clearly a result of years of swimming up and down heated pools and targeted weight-training and body conditioning.

I personally found it pathetic the way certain journalists kept going on about how Nick Willis' (NZ) bronze medal in the 1500m was somehow remarkable because he was not an East African. He was even quoted as saying he was "representing the Western world against the Africans". I felt proud of his achievement given NZ's history in the event and my country of birth but I would feel a lot less ambivalent about it if he would just shut his mouth. Let's look at the facts:

The fastest 1500m time in 2007: Alan Webb (US) - a white guy
2004 Olympic champion over 800m: Yuriy Borzakovskiy (Russia) - a white guy
Winning time from Rashid Ramzi (not an East African - born in Morocco and with fairly white skin anyway) 3:32.94: At this pace, Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and even our own John Walker would have been competitive - all ran faster at various stages of their career.

There may well be a case that in short-distance sprinting events, people descended from West Africans have a born advantage. But perhaps environmental factors - lack of swimming pools and specialist coaches, a generation of white, western kids spending too much time sitting on their butts playing computer games and being driven everywhere rather than running miles just to get to school - are far more plausible explanations for certain "races" domination of olympic events.