...Turns out he's one and the same man. So does the Olympic committee have the track record to act as the moral guardians of sport?

Here's one for the ethicists to get their teeth into. Should New Zealand Olympians be chosen purely on their sporting excellence or is poor off-field behaviour worthy of a veto?

The latest example of this conundrum is taekwondo master Logan Campbell who, with some of the entrepreneurial flair of his historic namesake, has opened a 14-room brothel on central Auckland. The number of rooms is significant because, according to TV3 News last night, that makes it one of the largest in the country.

Brothel-keeping is a perfectly legal business in New Zealand, but according to the Olympic Committee and Taekwondo New Zealand, it ain't legit. Campbell, who competed in Beijing last year, says he's raising money to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics. Nah-ah, say the bosses. Matt Ransom of Taekwondo New Zealand told TV3:

"We're very disappointed. It's not what's normal, it's not what is acceptable in our sport".

Barry Maister, Secretary General of the local Olympic Committee, agreed, saying if he continues to work in the sex industry, he's unlikely to get chosen for the team.

It's an interesting line these sports administrators are choosing to draw. They have obviously decided that selling sex is still beyond the comfort zone of most New Zealanders, the very people the Olympic team will be representing. They will also be stressing how important it is that elite New Zealand athletes are role models for kids in this country, and so with selection comes social responsibility.

What moral guidelines are our Olympians expected to adhere to? The motto is simply "faster, higher, stronger" (which you could argue suggests a perfect fit with the sex industry!). But the Olympic Charter offers more guidance. It contains a list of "fundamental principles", of first two of which are:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life,exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

It explicity talks of providing a "good example" and preserving "human dignity", both of which could be reasonably claimed to be at odds with prostitution. Presumably the Olympic committee in each country has the tricky responsibility of acting as moral guardians, interpreting those guidelines.

On the other hand, Campbell could make the case that he's starting a perfectly legal business; indeed, he's showing real commitment to his cause by putting his own capital on the line to achieve his dream. He could argue that it's gutsier – and perhaps smarter – than following other Olympians down that well-worn path to the doors of various corporate sponsors. For a minority sport such as taekwondo, I suspect fundraising is a hard graft.

It's a fraught intersection of sport, morality, law, and politics where the potential for ethical crashes is huge. For example, if Olympic selection is to be based, in part,  on the competitor's occupation, what other jobs would be considered unacceptable? What if an Olympian was working for a tobacco company? Is that the behaviour of a good role model? Or a gymnast who was also a stripper?

You'll remember the fuss when Sarah Ulmer started advertising McDonalds, leveraging her popularity with Kiwi kids to sell fatty foods. Was that "normal" and "acceptable"?

Olympic morality is often a mix of tragedy and comedy worthy of ancient Greece. Quite apart from their years of faffing around on drug cheats, just look at the corporate sponsors for the London Games. McDonalds and Coca Cola are once again major sponsors, or "partners", as the IOC likes to call them... isn't it interesting that the Olympic charter, while praising fair play and the balance of body and mind, does not use the word 'health'? In that way the IOC can take money from companies whose core business is to sell unhealthy food and drink.

Cadbury has joined the list of sponsors for 2012, also raising some eyebrows in Britain because of its less than sporty product range. And to round out this list of "role model" companies we have GE, a major part of what General Dwight Eisenhower called the military industrial complex and a less than exemplary environmental record.

Are the Olympic bosses in any place to act as our moral guardians?

Of course we've been here before with Olympic athletes. Remember boxer Soulan Pownceby, who represented New Zealand at the Athens Olympics despite his conviciton for manslaughter? (He lost to a Turkish fighter in his first bout). At the Melbourne Commonwealth Games two years later Australian PM John Howard said he shouldn't be allowed to compete, before Australian officials over-ruled him and decided Pownceby was "of good character". After several stints in prison, Pownceby had turned his life around with the help of boxing and the Salvation Army. (As an interesting aside, it seems Pownceby is still boxing and may be about to get a world ranking).

I'm torn on this one, so in the tradition of gutless bloggers everywhere I'm going to end this post asking, what do you think? Let the Games begin...

Comments (6)

by stuart munro on July 13, 2009
stuart munro

This is the price we pay for allowing a fool like Tim Barnett to meddle with our cultural norms; the athletes who are supposed to be exemplars for our country are exemplars of dubious if not sociopathic activity. Our country's disgrace is now international - this is a top BBC story.

Prostitution was legal in NZ long before the last Labour government took it upon itself to demonstrate that they couldn't run a screwup in a brothel. The law, like all European law, was highly evolved with an enormous volume of case law developed to balance the competing interests of the different communities concerned.

But Labour knew better! With a majority of a single vote they imposed their myopic vision on New Zealand, because sleaze is important, and nothing must interfere with its erosion of conservative social norms.

Any public health professional will tell you that prostitution is a negative social indicator, and that in individual cases it correlates with increased risks of mental illness and inability to sustain relationships, in addition to the traditional venereal risks. It is often linked with crime and gang activity, and with drug or alcohol dependency. It is not something a responsible government should want anything to do with.

But then, Labour was never a responsible government, and Key is not a whit better. I have some sympathy for the athlete, because what is legal should be something you can do with a clear conscience.

In this instance however, the law needs to be changed, and such a change will force Logan Campbell to find another source of income. Perhaps he could teach Taekwondo.

by Tim Watkin on July 13, 2009
Tim Watkin

Thanks Stuart. You hit on a central question - if it's legal, does that make it ok? That's why I asked about the Olympian who worked for a tobacco company. Legal... but good enough?

by Craig Ranapia on July 14, 2009
Craig Ranapia

Thanks Stuart. You hit on a central question - if it's legal, does that make it ok?


Tim: I'd like to ask another question -- Waving around the Olympic Charter is all very nice, but do you really want organisations with a long and squalid history of alleged bribery and corruption tainting the bid process, cheating through use of performance-enhancing drugs and legitimating squalid regiemes with abonimable human rights records from Nazi Germany to Communist China acting as moral policemen?

While the Olympic movement is riding a moral high horse, I'd respectfully suggest that people in dirty glasshouses shouldn't be throwing stones at the local knocking shop.

by Tim Watkin on July 15, 2009
Tim Watkin

That was one of my points, Craig. Given their history - and even their present corporate relationships - it's a bit rich for the IOC in any country to preach. Sounds like 'do as I say, not as I do'.

But we can't damn them forever. If they've decided to sort themselves out, there's got to the opportunity for redemption...  We should encourage them if they're trying to step up.

by Craig Ranapia on July 16, 2009
Craig Ranapia

But we can't damn them forever. If they've decided to sort themselves out, there's got to the opportunity for redemption...  We should encourage them if they're trying to step up.

Sure. but if someone who owns a share in a legal brothel is not a fit person to represent Taekwondo New Zealand at the Olympics, in part because he is not a "suitable role model to young people", then let's point out the hypocrisy of an organisation that, according to its own website, solicited pokie profits to send junior representatives overseas.  Hey, it might be legal but... sauce for Logan Campbell etc.

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