The Olympic motto ‘citius, altius, fortius’—faster, higher, stronger—gives a precise concentrate of the strong belief in eternal progress. To break barriers, to push limits, is very important and central in elite sport.[1]

38.1 Individuals engage in sporting activities for a range of reasons: as a form of social interaction, for fun, to keep fit, for the thrill of competition and, in some cases, to earn a living. At the elite or professional level, sport can involve exploring the limits of what is humanly possible in terms of speed, strength and skill. At this end of the sporting spectrum there are powerful incentives, including financial incentives, to use new technologies such as gene therapy and genetic testing to maximise potential and provide a competitive edge. The use of genetic information in elite sports is the focus of this chapter.

38.2 While there is potential for the use of gene therapy to treat sport injuries and to enhance performance, these applications are experimental and the subject of continuing research. Part D of this Report addresses the regulatory framework for the ethical conduct of human genetic research in Australia. That framework, and the recommendations made in Part D, extends to genetic research in the field of sports medicine. The issues raised by the potential application of this research, although of great significance for sport’s governing bodies and sport’s drug agencies, largely fall outside the terms of reference of this Inquiry. It is of interest to note, however, that the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee have recently included the non-therapeutic use of genes, genetic elements and/or cells that have the capacity to enhance athletic performance in their list of proscribed substances and methods.[2]

38.3 The use of genetic information in sport does, however, fall within the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. The Inquiry received few submissions on the use of genetic information in sport, but this application clearly has the potential to raise ethical, discrimination and privacy issues. Two uses, in particular, are considered in this chapter. These are the use of genetic testing to identify:

    • potential elite athletes carrying particular ‘performance’ genes; and

    • individuals with a genetic predisposition to sports-related injury.

[1] G Breivik, Limits to Growth in Elite Sport – Some Ethical Considerations, 16 September 2002.

[2] International Olympic Committee, Press Release: IOC Gene Therapy Working Group — Conclusions, International Olympic Committee, <>, 20 February 2003.