There’s no gene for fate.”
Vincent Freeman, Ethan Hawke’s character in the 1997 sci-fi thriller Gattaca, maintains this is why his genetic inferiority doesn’t matter. It’s a parallel world in Gattaca where eugenics separate the genetically weak from the strong, where people such as Freeman —conceived without genetic selection—are considered “invalid” for intellectual and physical pursuits. But it’s a world where, because of his grit, determination and hard work, he still manages to eke out his own fate.
The actual world today is hardly that scientific dystopia. But, every once in a while, some advancement prompts concern of what the world would leave behind if it mindlessly surged ahead with science. Craig Venter’s “synthetic cell” in May, for instance, did. On Monday, Mint reported that DNA tests could determine if a child possesses innate athletic ability.
We can imagine Indian parents getting excited to find out if their progeny will be the next Sachin Tendulkar: A laboratory has already tested 3,000 children in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. In a country desperate for sports heroes—and where some heroes are showered with endorsements and fame—this rush for gene testing isn’t surprising.
India has flirted with a similar idea before—and in the same desperation. In the late 1980s, the Sports Authority of India became intrigued by Gujarat’s Siddi tribe, descended from black Africans who landed here 1,400 years ago. Bureaucrats thought that because they were genetically African, these tribals were innate athletes. A 16-year project proved otherwise.
Even if the gene now in question turns out to be a true “advancement”, and even if doctors (à la Gattaca) engineer fertilization to ensure the presence of this gene, it’s no guarantee it will eradicate the poverty of real sports-building in India. That will take investments in infrastructure. And it will take the presence of real sportsmen.
We grant that all sports (and all societies) have to contend with advancements that force them to change their rules. But if future households and governments rush to embrace the philosophy behind gene advancements, they shouldn’t forget that they would lose out on the qualities that make real sportsmen. They would then completely give up the grit, determination and hard work that characterize sports stars, all for a new age of medal-winning machines.
Should India embrace this new sports gene? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org