Every year the Institute of Ideas runs the ‘Battle of Ideas’, a chance to debate and discuss a wide range of subjects with the slogan ‘Free Thinking Welcome!’ As well as the main event in London, there are a range of satellite events that take place all over Britain and this year we were privileged to take part in one at the National Football Museum. The subject was drugs in sport; a very topical and controversial issue in the light of the recent Olympics and ongoing revelations in sports as varied as cycling, tennis and football. Two of our students, Jack Simmonds and Usman Siddiqui, were invited to debate the motion that ‘we should permit the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport’. They spoke against the motion, defending the traditional view that drugs were dangerous to athletes, and that the impact of legalisation on elite sportsmen and women would have a negative effect on all levels of competition. On the other side, the team from Hutton Church of England Grammar School in Preston argued that legalisation would lead to safer, fairer and more exciting competition. Both Jack and Usman described the experience as both terrifying and exhilarating; having spent hours researching the science and history of doping, they had to maintain their composure and think on their feet as the debate continued. The argument was very intense, with excellent points brought up on both sides. As well as arguing against each other, and answering questions from the audience of students and adults, the teams were grilled by three judges: actuary Hilary Salt, social work lecturer (and keen cyclist) Dr Chris Yianni, and David Mansell from the National Football Museum.
At the end of the debate, in a split decision, the judges awarded the win to the team from Hutton. However, to quote Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin, as Jack did in his closing speech, “the most important thing … is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” We certainly felt that both teams had lived up to these standards in a challenging and insightful exploration of a very timely issue! Adam Rawcliffe from the Institute of Ideas who chaired the debate summed the event up: “We thought the debate was a great success, marrying the Battle of Ideas’ dedication to open public debate and Debating Matters’ commitment to treating young people seriously. The issue of doping isn’t debated as robustly as it perhaps should be, I think the experts could learn a lot from the students from both Hutton and Loreto.”