The Rust has never apologised for taking a hard-line approach to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport, but last weekend’s decision by the International Olympic Committee not to kick Russia out of the 2016 Rio Games – instead leaving it to the controlling federations of individual sports to make their own decisions on the subject – was far more than a weak-kneed fudge.
It was a tacit admission that the second of the only two truly-global world sports bodies (let’s leave the other – FIFA – out of this because ever since 1998 when Sepp Blatter became its president its slide to beyond-parody corruption and sleaze was tantamount to throwing itself off a cliff) had finally given up its last veil of respectability, principle and integrity.
Although I’m prepared to chuck unlimited tons of manure at those at the helm of the IOC, I do understand where they were coming from.
They didn’t get into sport to do negative things.
They went into sport firstly because participation in it was a fundamentally good thing and secondly because they wanted to put something back. Plus, of course, it was fun and spiritually rewarding to be part of the Olympic movement and everything that came with it.
In other words, the salaries, the expenses, the opportunities for first class travel [and meeting celebrities, statesmen and Royalty] plus then, every four years, VIP tickets and concessions at each successive Olympic Games. Plus the Winter Olympics, or even the Paralympics, if you really wanted to go to them.
They didn’t become part of the Olympic movement because they wanted to deal with problems. You know, stuff like cheating – whether it be over passports, identity qualifications, blurred genders, degrees of disability, performance-enhancing drug taking, ‘blood-doping’, or using equipment that bends or breaks the regulations.
Granted there can often be but a slim difference between seeking out and using anything you can in order to gain an advantage over your fellow likely Olympic competitors – I’m talking here about ‘regulated’ periods of high-altitude training or the tale of British Olympic decathlon legend Daley Thompson deliberately making a point of training on Christmas Day because he figured that it would be one day on which his arch-rival Jürgen Hingsen of West Germany would be taking time off – and ‘cheating’ [under whatever definition of that term you use], but it is a real and stark one.
The key issue, of course, is that cheating is cheating – and that’s a black and white issue.
When it comes to offences of using performance-enhancing drugs, for me Grade A is obviously any athlete devoid of scruples who actively seeks them out in order to maximise his performance … and thence gain greater rewards in terms of either Olympic medals or straightforward appearance money or prize money.
It’s a situation in which the athlete himself knows deep down that he’s doing wrong but doesn’t care because of the upsides he can gain from the practice plus – I’d hazard to guess – his expectation, or hope, and/or received opinion, that the chance of ever being detected in his deceit stands at less than 10%.
Grade B offences, for me, are committed by athletes – my readers can select their own examples from their memory banks going back over the last forty years – who, filled with frustration and hurt that the ‘wonderful’ sport (to which they have been devoting so much of their lives) is riddled with drugs-cheats against whom they are unlikely ever to prevail, well certainly in the really lucrative Diamond League meetings and/or major championships, decide at some point that frankly ‘if you cannot beat ‘em, you might as well join them’.
I’d add here that inevitably there is an overlap between Grade A and Grade B offenders.
That said, it has to be repeated that there are Grade A offenders in any event.
Then are those (I’m placing them in my Grade B category) who originally went into their sport with all good intentions [without appreciating the extent to which drugs-use was rife] but later, very reluctantly, began dabbling because they felt they had little choice. In effect it was either that, or else come to terms with having a second-rate sporting career … or indeed just giving up and doing something else.
Finally, there must have been those (again, Grade B-ers)– and this may apply in the present tense too – who, totally aware of the prevalence of drug-cheating in their sport, nevertheless went into it intending at some point to take drugs as when the right time or opportunity comes (i.e. if that is what it takes to succeed).
[It could be argued that these latter Grade B-ers are closer to being Grade A-ers than genuine Grade B-ers.]
In my view, right from the first time it ever happened, being caught having taken performance-enhancing drugs should always have been an out-and-out career-ending offence. No ifs, buts, or appeals – end of message.
Where the IOC has now got itself is practically the worst possible place it can be. It has effectively run a flag up the pole stating for once and for all that ‘keeping the Olympic show on the road’ is more important than whether cheating is going on within the Olympic sports movement.
I cannot see the IOC – or the Olympics – coming back from this.
It seems to me that there are only two ways of dealing with the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. The first is to do whatever it takes to eradicate it. Getting black and white, being draconian, not minding who (or which nation) you upset or tread on the toes of – just (1) investing every ounce of IOC profits in drug-testing technology if necessary and (2) ending the career of anyone caught. Issues of legal appeals, ‘serving one’s time’ (rehabilitation) and human rights must be sent straight to the bin. Or ignored.
That should just about do it.
The alternative – a solution that I’ve been proposing (not entirely in jest) for forty years now – is simply to switch tacks completely. The IOC should declare the Olympics drugs-friendly – make available a variety of drugs, doctors in the Olympic village to advise athletes, clean syringes, and so on and so on – with the one provision being total transparency.
In other words, in advance of the 100 metres final, not only would a schedule being published listing each athlete taking part and the country he represents, but the drugs he has been taking over the past 12 months (including quantities and strengths). I’d actually also like to suggest here that, if practicable, it might also be valuable to add a list of former champions and/or athletes who were on a similar cocktail of drugs – and indeed whether they’re still alive, or perhaps their average age at death if they already are).
That way we spectators, fellow athletes – and indeed world history – could watch the race for whatever we take it to be.
Or perhaps I should have said ‘for what it actually is’.
Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the death knell for sport as I used to know and love it.
And for the meantime, apart from watching those sports – or those events in those sports – that I really wish to make a point of seeing, I am now going to boycott the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in protest. In other words, I shall be adopting an occasional ‘opting in’ approach to my television viewing (in contrast to my previous lifelong practice of watching everything that moves).