Games and ethics.

January is a good time to look back at the just-completed year. The year 2004 had the usual collection of high and low points, all with more or less importance depending on where one stands. Massachusetts' residents, for example, recently balanced the euphoria of a World Series victory (after 86 years) against the disappointment of the defeat of yet another favorite son. Senator John Kerry follows former Governor Mike Dukakis, former Senator Paul Tsongas and former Senator Edward Kennedy into history as Massachusetts men with unfulfilled dreams of the presidency of the United States.

It is a rule of etiquette that politics and religion should be avoided as topics of casual conversation in polite society. Perhaps that is why we concentrate so much on sports. Therefore it's OK to trumpet the Red Sox in their triumph, first over the Yankees, and then over the Cardinals. A writer from the Boston area can do so without undue offense to New Yorkers and St. Louis fans because it is expected to be that way. So, too, with the New England Patriots, though by the time this issue of POB comes out we'll know how transitory victory in the NFL can be. None of this talk, you will note, has much to do with surveying, but the world of sports has once again given us a model of behavior with lessons for the professional.

I spent the month of August in Greece, following a year of writing about the 2004 Olympic Games for a local newspaper here in Massachusetts. I became interested in Athens' preparation for the Games when I was there early in 2003 at a technical meeting. At that time, and for the next 14 months, Athens was involved in a crash program to complete the facilities and infrastructure for the Games, a feat they achieved wonderfully. As we all now know, the transportation services, the sports venues and nearly everything else connected to the Games worked smoothly. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular. Unfortunately, what the Games of 2004 will be remembered for is not the successes of Greek planning. What will be remembered is athlete doping.

At least two dozen athletes at the 2004 Games had their medals taken away after competition, or were disqualified before competing, for having failed the tests for doping or for having refused to submit to the testing (which under the International Olympic Committee [IOC] rules was tantamount to failing the tests). The greatest controversy over doping began even before the first competition. Two Greek runners, both medallists in the prior Olympic Games, were scheduled for testing the night before the opening ceremony. They didn't show up at the Olympic Village that evening where the tests were to be given. Instead they were found later at a local hospital having apparently been involved in a motor scooter accident. They were held in the hospital from Friday to the following Tuesday recovering from injuries that have never been described, caused by an accident that was neither witnessed nor reported to the police. During those four days, of course, testing was not possible. IOC leaders, the press, the international community and many of the local populace were skeptical of the story and before testing of the athletes could be conducted on Tuesday, the two runners voluntarily withdrew from competition.

Kostas Kenteris, the 200-meter gold medal winner at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was a Greek national hero. To say there was national anguish over this turn of events is to understate the public reaction to his withdrawal from the 2004 Games. I had thought there would be condemnation for Kenteris' apparent cheating with drugs, but in the days following his disgrace other athletes from many other countries voiced their support for him. Then, on the evening of the final running of the 200-meter race in Athens' magnificent new Olympic Stadium the crowd expressed their disappointment and their disdain for the IOC and its rules. By chanting "KENTERIS, KENTERIS!" over and over at mega decibels, they made it impossible for the judges to start the race since the runners would be unable to hear the gun over the crowd. This went on for five or six minutes but seemed much longer, I'm sure, to the runners.

My reaction to the crowd's outburst was one of righteous indignation. How could the crowd lend vociferous support for an athlete who had disappointed them by breaking the rules? The Greek position, I soon learned, was that the IOC is hypocritical in its application of the rules in that a Greek national hero had been punished while it was common knowledge that athletes in every contest, from every nation, take performance-enhancing drugs. Either the rules should be enforced uniformly and completely or not at all.

There is an ethical issue here that can be applied to sports or to any profession, including surveying: is it OK to break the rules since "everybody is doing it"? We speak of ethics in surveying just as all professionals do these days, and we search for practical everyday ethical issues to consider. The "everybody does it" argument applies to many areas of activity in the life of the professional surveyor, from over-reporting of expenses and under-reporting of income for tax purposes, and creative invoicing by surveyor-proprietors, to moonlighting by public employees on public time. It's always easy to justify the wrong thing when it seems to be common practice. So where is the immutability of ethics? Is wrong always wrong or can wrong sometimes be justified?