Genetic MedallingProgress Educational Trust
Main Lecture Theatre, Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE
7 June 2011
An evening debate organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, supported by the Wellcome Trust. This event forms part of the PET project Genes, Ancestry and Racial Identity: Does It Matter Where Your Genes Come From? (which launched with the event Is There a Place for Race in Biology? and continued with the event Will Pharmacogenetics Lead to Colour-Coded Medicine?).
The remarkable success of East African endurance athletes and sprinters of West African descent fascinates scientists and the public alike, and research to determine the role of genetics in athletic prowess is currently underway. Such work is controversial, because it could bolster arguments that performance is dependent upon race and is different between races, thereby perpetuating racial stereotypes. Moreover, some commentators have questioned the entire biological paradigm that prompts us to anticipate genetic factors in sporting achievement.
If we do find performance-related genes, how might this affect our attitude to sporting ability, fairness, equity and justice? To take an extreme scenario, would it be fair to segregate some sporting events based on 'race' if it turns out that certain 'races' have a genetic advantage? To what extent would such segregation be analogous to the male/female divide, which is also based on a genetic difference, and which is not without its own controversies (for example the recent case of champion runner Caster Semenya, whose gender became a matter of dispute).
This evening debate will see experts with contrasting perspectives discuss the relationship between genetics, sport and race. What might the consequences of this relationship be, for the imminent 2012 Summer Olympics in London?
In the PET tradition, following introductory presentations the bulk of the debate's running time will be devoted to soliciting questions and comments from the audience.
Photograph by Lahiru Dayananda