There are times when we are called upon to ask ourselves whether we would soon see a decision being taken to allow athletes to compete using whatever they can to attain the best possible performances.
That seems a logical conclusion following any significant review of sport in 2013 since the use of performance-enhancing drugs continues in defiance of attempts to. Break the back of this plague.
The biggest story in sport for the year, 2012, was not the outstanding achievements of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the Olympic Games in London. It was the startling revelations of Lance Armstrong, once the doyen of international cycling.
Many sport analysts around the world had their suspicions of Armstrong given the nature of his achievements, especially in the aftermath of the revelation that he was a cancer survivor.
In many respects it appeared as though the cycling fraternity reaped immense benefits from Armstrong’s achievement. He proved to be the perfect athlete in the sport and was touted as an example to the world of sport of the extensive capacity of man to rise above adversity and achieve remarkable success.
The leadership of the International Cycling Union (UCI) watched as the sport grew in popularity and despite the annual furore that emerged as one cyclist after another fell from grace because of their use of performance-enhancing drugs in their search for success, Armstrong loomed large.
In US society, Armstrong became a symbol of the American Dream. He was hailed by all for his outstanding commitment to fight the dreaded cancer and rise to the top.
Lance Armstrong was portrayed as the kind of individual every American wanted his/her child to be.
Lance Armstrong became much more than a folk hero in his native USA. He was the ultimate sportsman and a global sporting icon.
When in 2013 Armstrong revealed his life as a cyclist who was heavily involved in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the critics of his lengthy achievements felt vindicated and disgrace was his lot.
In 2006, Floyd Landis, a member of Lance Armstrong’s road cycling team, tested positive for synthetic testosterone while competing in the Tour de France. He denied the allegation and fought an extensive legal battle to clear his name of any wrong doing.
Four years later, on Wednesday 19 May 2010, confessed to having used performance-enhancing drugs for the better part of his career on the bike as a professional. He admitted to being on drugs the year he won the Tour de France before being stripped of the title.
Landis, in his confession identified a number of other cyclists who were heavily involved in the use of performance-enhancing drugs and noted that the practice was going on for an extended period of time. Lance Armstrong was one of the cyclists Landis named.
An article by Bonnie D Ford (ESPN.com, 21 May 2010) stated, In a lengthy telephone interview from California, Landis detailed extensive, consistent use of the red blood cell booster erythropoietin (commonly known as EPO), testosterone, human growth hormone and frequent blood transfusions, along with female hormones and a one-time experiment with insulin, during the years he rode for the U.S. Postal Service and Switzerland-based Phonak teams.
Armstrong seemed outraged that his name should have been called by Landis in such a practice as the use of performance-enhancing drugs that he was quote din the same article as saying, I have nothing to hide … history speaks for itself here,” Armstrong told reporters before the Tour of California on Thursday. “It’s his word versus ours … we like our word, we like our credibility
Of course the bubble burst with Armstrong’s own confession two years later.
The Jamaica debacle
In 2013, in an amazing twist of fate, the pendulum of accusations of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes swung in different directions.
Prior to hosting the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships in Moscow, 24 Russian athletes tested positive and were banned from participating in the competition before their home crowd. No wonder the Russians showed little interest in the IAAF’s big event.
According to Mike Costello (BBC Radio 5), all told, in 2013 approximately 40 Russian athletes in the sport were serving suspensions.
In addressing the announcement of positive drug tests by both Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay, Costello noted, Five of the 10 quickest men in history have now tested positive. Six, actually, but the American Tim Montgomery’s marks have been scratched from the records. Among the top four, only world record holder Usain Bolt remains unblemished
Interestingly and most embarrassingly, focus also shifted to the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, a country which, since the 1940s, has emerged as the single most successful small-island in international athletics competition.
A David Bond (BBC Sports Editor) Article dated 11 July 2013 quoted senior drug tester in Jamaica, Dr Paul Wright, as fearing that the positive tests in his native country in 2013 alone, may well be only the tip of the iceberg.
The article states, And he said the sudden surge of athletes failing tests at the country’s national trials in June had left him fearing the worst.
The results are not good,” he told the BBC. “This year alone the results really point the finger.
Remember, all of these results except one were caught by Jadco. The problem is these people were tested positive in competition. What that means is months before you know the date of the test and the approximate time of the test.
So if you fail an in-competition test you haven’t only failed a drugs test, you have failed an IQ test.
Of course, many Jamaicans, including the country’s Olympic boss, Michael Fennell, were incensed that such comments would have been made about the country’s athletes and drug testing system, and quickly jumped on the defensive.
The problem is that Fennell is not in athletics and may well be speaking out of turn in his eagerness to have the slate wiped clean.
Fennell may well not be aware of the overall number of Jamaican athletes who have tested positive over the past several years and the implications that this has for global perception of what realty happens in the Caribbean country.
The fact that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) felt obliged to visit Jamaica to conduct its own analysis following some startling revelations by former executive director of Jadco, Renee Anne Shirley.
It was Shirley who revealed her own dissatisfaction with Jadco’s decision to conduct only one out of competition drug test in the country in the critical six months leading up to the London Olympics 2012.
Jamaica’s Minister of Sport, Natalie Neita Headley, gave WADA assurances that significant changes would be brought to bear on Jadco and the way it conducts its business. In late 2013 all the members of Jadco resigned, making the way for sweeping changes.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago also suffered major setbacks when two of its top female sprinters had to withdraw from the IAAF’s World Championships after having arrived in Moscow for the competition.
The positive test of Kelly-Ann Baptiste, already world ranked in the 100m on the IAAF’s list of female sprinters and a former bronze medalist at the World Championships, significantly shocked the twin-island Republic.
Interestingly, some years ago, a junior athlete tested positive at home. At the time the athlete was attempting to make the nation’s team to the annual CARIFTA Games.
The trial of Spanish doctor, Eufamiano Fuentes, in his native country, spanned seven years and in the end he emerged with what many consider a slap on the wrist.
An article by Matt Slater (BBC sports news reporter) dated 1 May 2013 made some starling revelations about Fuentes’ work.
Slater noted the story of Cristina Perez. She tested positive for drugs shortly after the 1988 Olympics and married Fuentes later that year. With Barcelona hosting the next Games in 1992, Spanish athletics could not afford the scandal, so Fuentes was shown the door.
Those Olympics could not have gone much better for the hosts.
A revitalised Barcelona sparkled, the years of isolation under General Franco were forgotten and the country’s athletes enjoyed unprecedented success, winning 13 gold medals to finish sixth in the medal table.
To put the achievement into some kind of context, Spain had only ever won four gold medals in 92 years of Olympic competition before the 1992 Games.
Five years ago, in a very rare interview, Perez spoke about her husband’s work in the build-up to Barcelona.
“I know what happened in 1992 and I’m a Pandora’s Box that, if opened, could bring down sport,” she said.
“But out of respect for my companions, the people who sacrificed so much, I’m staying quiet, although I could speak out and ruin all those caught up in this little world.”
Fuentes has often boasted of having a client list that extended far beyond the cycling community, but has never revealed who those boxers, footballers and tennis players might be.
At least Fuentes was brought to trial, however futile that may have proven to be in real terms. We are uncertain about the number of other physicians who have been doing like Fuentes. We know now that Armstrong’s approach to the use of performance-enhancing substances was highly sophisticated but we have not heard of who were the physicians and others involve din the system.
We are yet to learn of the sentences for Powell, Gay, Sherone Simpson and Kelly-Ann Baptiste, to say nothing of whether they will reveal the names of the others who aided them in their dastardly practice. Such is the nature of the challenges we face in sport today.
Life in the fast lane of success is something sought by many who are now involved in sport.
The world of sport is replete with athletes anxious to attain success by any means necessary, performance-enhancing substances included. St Vincent and the Grenadines is not without its own share of blemish in this regard. One of our athletes received a four-year ban for engaging in this practice.
There is no shortage of willing coaches, physicians and administrators who are just as eager as their athletes to bask in the glory of success in sport, regardless of the route used to achieve this.
Many are already calling for an end to the war against drugs in sport claiming that the plague is now so pervasive in so many different sports that it is almost impossible to put a stop to the practice.
2014 would prove an even bigger challenge to WADA and those international federations (IF) that seem committed to continue the fight against doping in sport. We wait with bated breath to see the outsome.