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There's a growing number of people who have telekinesis of different strengths, maybe as high as 1% of the population.

Many sports are collapsing into squabbles among players and spectators over alleged subtle telekinetic cheating - nudging a ball, interfering with equipment, or just a little extra power at a critical moment.

What can we do? We can't let these cheaters ruin sport!

EDIT: to clarify, no simple, reliable detection of telekinesis exists at this point in the story, hence why there are disputes. Reliable detection would settle any argument, as would blatant visible cheating, but when the leading cyclist slides on a wet road, was it because someone nudged his wheel?

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    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't the answer just be "call a foul, pass the quaffle to the victimised team and move on with the game"? Formally this is no different than performance enhancing substances. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 16 '21 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ It's much worse than that. Can't think of any type of sports that would not be affected, at least sports involving fast movement of objects. It becomes very tricky with e.g. table tennis and squash, to actually see it and determine a cheat took place. You'd need a high speed camera ! Same counts for tennis, badminton, hockey, volleyball, darts.. In team sports, no individual athlete can be accused, when detection of the ability is not possible without cooperation of the athlete, doing this trick. That's a big difference with substances, which can always be detected, also without cooperation. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 16 '21 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ Spectators too ? That will be the end of sports imho .. as far as competition is involved.. maybe put the telekinesis folks in separate league ? voluntarily, with a certain ethics around the subject ? it would require a culture change $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 16 '21 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine ruining sports would be the least of your concerns. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 16 '21 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ invent new sports, $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 16 '21 at 16:54

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You have two options:

  1. Develop a telekinesis detecting test, so that you can screen the telekinetic out of the venues where the sport event take place, and keep them at a distance where they cannot interfere. This would mean that having telekinetic capability would be an impeding factor for playing sports, similar to what for example a health condition can be
  2. Integrate telekinesis in the rule of the game. Why is it legal to have Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal in the team, ensuring superiority to their team, and not a telekinetic athlete? Philip Dick in many of his stories has psi and anti-psi, acting against each other. Same can be in this case. A telekinetic can try (and maybe succeed) at countering the power of their opponent, in the same way a defender can try to stop the dribbling of CR9. That's part of the game.

In 2) spectators being telekinetic is a relative issue: as long as they are on both sides, they can try to fight each other, sort of like what they do today already when singing chores. That would put some reality into the "public is the 12th men on the field" (12th for football, other sports have other number)

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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that (2) might necessitate (1) anyway. If TK users serve a specific purpose in the game, players should likely have to declare whether or not they are TK users before joining the team, as should audience members so they don't influence the game, either. $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ This. Integrate telekinesis into the fabric of sports in some way! Question: how might you do this? It seems there's a fine line between nudging the ball so the goal keeper misses catching it and, say, sweeping the entire opposing team off the field and into the next county so that they can't actually oppose your team! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 16 '21 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the question to clarify the disputes exist because of a lack of a reliable way to detect telekinesis, but I do like the idea that some sports simply give up, assume the best players (and maybe supporters!) have and use their telekinesis, and write that into the rule book. e.g. In basketball, height becomes less decisive as players and courtside spectators may manipulate the ball and limited, external, parts of the other players (not the hoop or scoreboard) In F1, all telekinesis is banned and obsessive use of unreliable high-tech detection is an increasing part of the team's budget $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ #2 will change the sport in a big way. It will not matter how athletic you are, just how "telekinetic" you are. A team of scrawny telekinetics will beat the team of Michael Jordans and Shaquille O'Neals 10 times out of 10. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 16 '21 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with #2 is that spectators could be telekinetic too... $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Aug 17 '21 at 5:00
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If this is a natural world, there would be no sport that does not already include the influence of TK within the game. We wouldn't be looking at how to fit TK into a game, but should be thinking of how sport would exist in the ambient background of TK.

If there were a significant change in the availability or power of TK, there would be disruptions within the sport.

We see the same thing today, not with TK, but with steroid medication and tests for gender specific hormones. It echos in the discussions over trans-women participating in women's sports. There is a disruption -- in pharmacology or social values -- and the disruption impacts sport and games.

In your world, sports would have included TK. If the stakes for success are low, the rules would be "soft" and not need to be enforced. In our world, who really cares if one kid is getting growth hormones for some condition, and it helps them hit better? In a sand-lot baseball game, no one cares. The sport is about the play, the team, and friendly competition. Teams are fluid. If one player is noticeably better, he will be switched over time between teams. In your world, TK abilities would just be one more aspect of athletics. A player might be a slow runner, have bad eyesight, but help the team with TK abilities. Another play may be weak at TK, but runs faster. The mix of abilities would naturally work together on a team.

If the stakes are high, the player's play probably wouldn't be changed, but the influence of the crowd, the promoters, the advertisers, and the gamblers would be valid points of concern. High stakes means many more stake holders. We have the same problems now, with players being bribed to shave points, horse trainers drugging racehorses, and athletes (and athletic sponsors) trying to game the drug-testing procedures.

With high stakes, it is a story of influence and corruption, just as it is today. TK is one more pathway for corruption to be applied, but it isn't a new problem. It is only a new vector.

If this is critical to your story, I would suggest simply adding a line that everyone played fair. If you want to drive it into the plot, it would be the same sort of investigation and exposure plot you would write about this works, with some TK bling.

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A world-building answer:

In theory, I have the same problem in my universe. I call it "magic", but it's effectively telekinesis (but with the addition that you make "spells" that can be used even by non-magic-users).

I pretty much ignore sports since they are not relevant to my story. Also, as noted, your problem goes well beyond sports as magic/telekinesis opens up all sorts of interesting (read: scary) possibilities with respect to crime. Again, this isn't really relevant to my story, but that doesn't mean I haven't considered it.

I take a three-fold approach:

  • Prevention: In my world, there are various branches of "magic", one of which offers the possibility of suppressing others' abilities. In your case, this would mean a person or device capable of suppressing use of telekinesis either by a particular individual or within a venue.
  • Detection: Like you, only a modest number of people in my world can use "magic". A much larger number, however, can sense when magic is being used. For your case, simply employ these people as referees. Use of telekinesis results in an automatic "foul" (or at least a do-over if you can't tell which side is using it).
  • Deterrence: My world is really harsh on misuse of "magic". As in, criminal use warrants immediate revocation of someone's ability to use "magic"... on the "got off easy" end. More serious offenses are capital crimes (i.e. death penalty). The Red Queen approach is probably a little severe for your scenario, but perhaps a player caught using telekinesis is immediately black-listed from athletics, or a fan black-listed from attending any sporting events in person (much like how casinos in the real world black-list suspected cheaters).

I call this a "world-building approach" because at least two of these imply altering the rules of your world.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually the main plot is driven by interesting / scary possibilities that affect the fundamentals of daily life in the period where TK is shown to exist but before reliable detection is available. This is not just law and order but also economics, ethics and power structure in society. I had the idea of plot point of sports as an early victim as a kind of introduction to the scale of impact on society. I like this answer because it lays out the fundamentals; if detection and prevention are weak and unreliable, then you can expect a massive emphasis on deterrence. $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds interesting! In my case, "magic" has always existed, though it was something of a novelty prior to the industrial revolution (not enough "magic users" for spells to be part of everyday life), and my story is set long enough after that for things to have settled. For me, it's just part of the background, not a plot driver. I think you have a good source of conflict here, though! $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 16 '21 at 15:35
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The ball itself is a trap.

Depending on the telekinetic this may not work, but the general assumption is that to move something with your mind you need to be aware of what you are moving. If you can't see something because its inside a safe would you still be able to move it? If not then there's your trap.

Have your ball be a bell.

Cheaters that try to nudge the ball into another direction will have to focus on the outer layer of the ball. Inside is actually another sphere that sounds any irregularities. If it moves midair it makes a sound. Although bells are noisy anyway, so I suggest they put motion detectors inside the ball and around the stadium to prevent any cheater from winning large amounts of money in tournaments. Lowkey tournaments may not have enough on the line to care.

If that doesn't work, anti-telekinetic ball it is...

If the telekinetic can sense the objects around them, including the mechanism and would be able to prevent it from going off, well you're pretty much screwed. There would have to be some material that can't be manipulated or the military would have to study and develop a counter, but I doubt tournaments would bother buying a state of the art anti-telekinetic ball on the off chance someone is cheating.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this too; perfect detection of telekinesis at this point would spoil the story, but imperfect hints like the bell inside the ball, and maybe tilt-sensors in cycles or racing cars, and dedicated fans and/or AI computers studying video of alleged cheating might be enough to keep sports viable, but always on the brink of massive controversy $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ So... the problem with your idea is that your sensors are only detecting when a non-gravitational force is applied to the ball. In most sports, that happens quite a bit, and you're going to have a heck of a time differentiating between TK "cheating" and normal, TK-free game play. (Maybe this would work with golf and US football... but in US football — in quite a few team sports, actually — I'd be more worried about someone with TK going after the players.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 16 '21 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew Alternatively I propose a ball that lights up when hit. Every time a force is applied the ball flashes. When TK is used it would have to apply a force to the object. (Example: Football is kicked at the goal and flashes but then flashes a second time midair right before scoring a goal.) $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ If technology is similar or better than today, we have real-time 9 degree of freedom (9-DOF) sensors that can fit on fingernails. Together with a battery and a radio, they can sense any change in direction (acceleration up/down, left/right, forward/back), rotation (roll, pitch, and yaw), and magnetic fields (frame dependent orientation; in an arena with regular radio pulses, can give actual X, Y, and Z). Rather than having referees have to notice a flash as it happens, we can log changes in g-forces to as small as 1mm/s/s, and be able to replay the entire game to look for anomalies. $\endgroup$
    – Ghedipunk
    Aug 18 '21 at 1:04
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Suppose the ability would always be known before the sporter starts his/her career, no cheats.

Suppose the ability is socially acceptable, and society has found ways to turn it into something useful.

Any sports performed by non-telekinetic people could be affected (see comment above) so the only solution for that would be: two separate worlds. Telekinetic sports and non-telekinetic sports have nothing in common. People with telekinesis abilities will not take part in classic sports at all.

Telekinesis Olympics

Telekinetic sports events could be spectacular and very funny. Only some telekinetic sports are competitive: the Telekinesis Olympics is primarily intended to show off your skills. Some telekinetic sports have important cultural and artistic aspects.

Spectators

People with telekinetic ability should not be welcome at any sports events bearing competition. This is really a pitfall, it requires personal checkups for attendants.

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    $\begingroup$ "People with telekinesis abilities will not take part in classic sports at all" - why not? This seems like the equivalent of posting a "no cheaters allowed" sign and relying on the honor system. If you start with the premise that there are no telekinetic cheaters, there is no problem to solve in the first place. I don't see anything here that will prevent telekinetic people from cheating in non-telekinetic sports - it's not even possible to reliably identify that somebody used telekinesis, much less who did it. $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '21 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Hoagie the honor system is not needed. There would be no cheat, because it is public knowledge if someone is a telekinetic or not. As a child, telekinetics play with their abilities and the parents know this soon enough.. friends and fellow kids at school now about it, teachers and trainers.. The telekinetic has no incentive at all to cheat in competitive sports, because it will be busted too easily. Also, take my "supposes" into account. I assume in this society, telekinetic abilities are regarded as normal, but in sports you'll get 2 categories. I don't think common sports survives. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 16 '21 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just imagining a sort of telekinetic football/soccer type game, where all of the players just sit down on the sidelines, moving the ball with only their minds... $\endgroup$ Aug 17 '21 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ Put the basket of a basketball game 6 meters up.. only the most skilled telekinetics will be able to score, or disturb the movement, because the ball is too far away. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 17 '21 at 16:08
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Most likely, we'd see pogroms and a race to develop tests along with mandatory testing. Sudden sharp increases in the rate of murders, especially those associated with gambling.

Would probably also see the careers of the most talented players ruined with gossip that they were secret telekinetics, even if they passed such tests.

The only people still outside of camps who test positive for telekinesis will be a select few who have "agreed" to work with the government. I can almost read the "telekinetic pervert remote-fondled me" headlines now. Sports will be the least of it.

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Taking the posed question literally.

Can't detect, deter or prevent and it pretty much ruins sports as is.

Solution - sports as is is dead/dying unless you can figure out how to detect, deter, or prevent.

You could try non-magical, non-extra sensory measures such as high speed cameras, combined with computer based review looking for interference and assign suitable penalties when interference detected - but the issue of fan interference may make that untenable as well, i.e., fans could interfere in-order to be detected and sabotage play by triggering the penalty.

Detection would have to include not just detection, but identification of the person interfering so that the penalty could be applied to the source of the problem, e.g., ejection from game, banned from ballpark, etc. If gambling on sports is legal, penalties would have to have further real-world consequences sufficient to deter offenders - but unless you can identify the person causing the interference, detecting the fact of interference is simply not sufficient to prevent ruining the game.

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Half-answer/idea for detection anyway:

Every telekinetic individual has to stop breathing momentarily while they focus on moving an object telekinetically. Trying to do it while breathing fluidly is just like sneezing with your eyes open - it can't be done. So tiny, paper thin sensors are placed on the chest of individuals, much the way super sensitive electronic tattoos can 'read your mind' (read the narrator of your mind as you send small signals to the vocal chords even when not activating them fully to speak) - these devices can single out diaphragm tightening for telekinesis specifically, not just someone holding their breath in anticipation as a shot is heading towards the hoop/net/goal.

If you need there to not be any detection, I second the answers that say you simply can't stop the cheaters / it's solely honor based.

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Advanced Physics + Incredible Creepiness. Everybody is filmed nearly all the time and an incredible AI analyzes the footage for instances of statistically unlikely events, or SUEs. It's just a matter of waiting for the AI to locate telekinetic individuals. When an SUE occurs during a game, the roster is crosschecked to see which individuals have the highest rate of SUEs and voila!

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Cheating Players aren't the problem!

Any well-coordinated supporters' club will synchronise their telekinesis to deflect the ball to benefit their team. Unless supporters are banned from the area, there are no rules in sport that can deal with this. Even supporters overlooking the pitch from a nearby hotel will be able to affect the result.

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Technology

Think "Hawkeye" or "VAR" - technologies currently used in sport. These would be developed further to a more advanced level. AI and computers might not be able to detect actual telekinesis, but they can detect a subtle but unlikely swerve of the ball, or unusually increasing or decreasing momentum.

Unfortunately it's difficult to know who to punish. You can't simply punish the team who benefits, because then they will start using telekinesis against themselves in order to draw a punishment on their opponents. e.g. a striker is about to score a goal, and a defender will "help" him score, which the AI will detect and the goal will be disallowed.

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Another approach, the telekinetic becomes part of the game, whoever can "push" the ball wins the contest, whether by mind or by arm, and a strong TK talent might be critical for a winning team

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you make clear the difference between this answer and mine? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 17 '21 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, your answer implies only spectators would be involved, but I am implying that each team would need to attract and keep TK talent as part of the lineup $\endgroup$ Aug 18 '21 at 10:36

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