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Will Your Daughter be a Sports Star? How Genetic Testing Has Gone Too Far

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For many people, genetic testing can be life changing. 

Detecting serious health conditions, diseases and the knowledge of whether or not you could pass that gene onto your offspring can form the basis of some of life’s biggest decisions’

But what if you could test for athletic ability? Could you or your child be the next Usain Bolt or Sally Pearson? Are you wasting your time trying to be a triathlete when your genetic makeup says you are better suited to sprinting?

Believe it or not, you now can test for this.

The commercialisation of these genetic tests with their consumerism approach – yes you can mailorder these tests online and have them delivered to your door – means they’re becoming increasingly popular as big companies prey on our vulnerabilities and, more importantly, our vanity.

They’re becoming increasingly popular as big companies prey on our vulnerabilities and, more importantly, our vanity.

And now the Australian Institute of Sport has been forced to intervene.

It has released new guidelines for genetic testing in sport and their use as talent identification in children.

“Private companies are already offering direct-to-customer tests, often without the involvement of medical practitioners or genetic counselling. Athletes and coaches should be discouraged from using this testing because of its lack of validation.” AIS Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Hughes released in a statement.

““This is of greatest concern for children. Aspiring athletes could be provided with inappropriate advice about their suitability for specific sporting activities and that could be detrimental to their physical and psychological health.”

The tests primarily detect the ACE gene recognised for improved performances in endurance sports and the ACTN3 gene associated with strength and power. They’re marketed with statements like “do you have the genetic gift of elite athletes?” and “identify your genetic abilities to produce optimal athletic performance”.

Now we all may have a chuckle in disbelief that this is actually on offer, but the more readily available they are, the more normalised they will become and therein lies the danger.

Can you imagine how the pushy parent would react with this “knowledge’? They’re likely to morph into a whole new unbearable beast, testing their children then enlisting them in a sport that neither interests or excites them simply because a test says they’re better suited to it. Modern day science paralleling a communist-like breeding program to build a superior sporting nation.

But sport isn’t about genetics. Success in sport comes from passion, hard work and determination. There’s no genetic disposition to these traits and genetics isn’t going to give you success without them.

It’s a dangerous message we send to our kids that sporting success isn’t something we strive towards but something you’re simply born with

It’s a dangerous message we send to our kids that sporting success isn’t something we strive towards but something you’re simply born with. That there’s no use trying unless you have the genetic makeup. Or perhaps even that sport isn’t for everyone, only those tests say are gifted enough to succeed at.

Already the AIS has noticed the impact.

““I have dealt with athletes who have come in with this advice from direct-to-consumer companies about their genes and the quality of that advice is terrible,” Dr Hughes told the Australian.

“A distance runner might be told that his DNA says he shouldn’t be in endurance sport and that is nonsense.”

The new standards from the AIS forbid the use of genetic testing as a form of talent identification, or as a method to include or exclude athletes from a high-performance programme.

Let’s not shatter the dreams of children before they have even started reaching for them.

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