At what price, winning?
We have long since come to a recognition that in the world of politics it is common practice to hear of every politician seeking to win at all cost. It does not seem to matter what route is taken to achieve victory at the polls, however filthy the tricks undertaken and certainly with no concern for the consequences.
Research has shown that in the world of sport, often characterised as a wide and wonderful world, people are as willing to do almost anything to assure success, regardless of the consequences.
The recent revelations in respect of doping scandals and the attempts at either covering them up or using them as leverage to achieve other objectives by those in authority, simply add to the mess that has very rapidly become the new normal.
It is nonetheless disturbing that no one seems to care about the impact that the revealed truths would have on successive generations of children as yet unborn.
Perhaps at the end of the day we may very well find sport competitions literally with no holds barred, where anything goes with impunity.
For centuries we have been told that sport offers an opportunity for people to enhance the quality of their lives. Recreation through physical exercise has been promoted as facilitating healthy living.
We have had treatises written dating back to ancient times that linked physical fitness to clarity of thought. A physically fit person was seen as capable of doing more in terms of work, mental and physical in nature, enjoying good health.
We were made to understand too that engagement in physical activity opened up opportunities for camaraderie amongst participants, a social requisite for the development of wholesome, unity communities and nations.
There was also a sense that sport would ultimately allow friendship to engender respect for each other’s cultures and ultimately to promote peaceful coexistence.
So it as that when the Olympic Games were being revived the founding fathers sought to create an historic link with the profound culture of Ancient Greece. Indeed, Greek poet, Panagiotis Soutsos, is one of these in Greece credited with the revival of the Games, invoking the great philosopher, Plato. In 1833 his poem, Dialogue of the Dead, he places Plato asking of the Greeks, ‘Where are your theaters and marble statues, Where are you Olympic Games?’ This highlighted the intricate relationship between culture and sport in the ancient tradition.
In founding the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver articulated a vision captured by the lotto of the organization, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ The emphasis here is that participation if of significantly greater importance then winning. Put another way, the sheer effort shown in participating regardless of the odds of winning makes winners of all participants.
In the recent past the Canadian Sport for Life Society (CS4L) emerged operating essentially under the same philosophy. It promotes physical literacy as fundamentally important enough to be placed alongside literacy and numeracy as foundation pillars of life for every human being.
CS4L offers a more systematic approach of introducing physical activity as a lifelong process essential to the human condition and beneficial to society in its broadest possible context.
The global reality today is however far removed from the philosophy that is so often held as our lofty ideal.
Physical activity and sport today
The world has changed considerably from ancient times and some argue that we have already passed the stage of modernization and are no in the post-modern era. Exactly what this means may well be a challenge to understand in and of itself.
The inhabitants of this world are now so committed to technological advancement that we are fast losing the art of writing. Hacking into people’s emails is now commonplace and nothing is considered sacrosanct. Every individual is now an open book.
In physical activity it now seems more important to fashion one’s body more for sex appeal than for the benefits of overall fitness and general well-being. To this end the use of steroids and unnecessary supplements has become normative, the long term consequences notwithstanding.
Given the much earlier commencement of sexual activity by children it is not surprising that the winning formula of choice is a speeding up of the mature, sex look associated with ripping muscles.
To many, winning is being able to look good enough to enjoy a healthy sex life.
In the realm of sport there is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the increased commitment to winning at all cost and this has nothing to do with the joy attendant to participation.
The use of performance-enhancing substances and methods is increasing exponentially. Scientists are becoming more adept at researching ever-newer and difficult to detect, substances and methods as a means of creating niche markets that yield greater financial benefits to themselves.
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
The authorities for sport across the world have been forced to address the matter of doping in sport. WADA was created in 1999 as the international agency to educate the world about the issues and lead the fight against the use of illegal substances and methods in sport.
WADA explains, ‘The World Anti-Doping Code is the core document that harmonizes anti-doping policies, rules and regulations within sport organizations and among public authorities around the world. It works in conjunction with five International Standards which aim to foster consistency among anti-doping organizations in various areas: testing; laboratories; Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs); the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods; and the protection of privacy and personal information.
‘This unified approach addresses problems that previously arose from disjointed and uncoordinated anti-doping efforts, including, among others: a scarcity and splintering of resources required to conduct research and testing; a lack of knowledge about specific substances and procedures being used and to what degree; and an inconsistent approach to sanctions for those athletes found guilty of doping.’
Evidence garnered from sports around the world highlight the numerous challenges that WADA faces. Many international sports organisations spent much of their time ignoring WADA since they enjoyed the immense display of sporting prowess on the field of play by athletes who they knew were ‘on something’. It seemed impossible for the leaders of international sport not to have become suspicious. They may not have acknowledged but they must have had suspicions and maybe that is the reason they opted not to investigate.
Growing displeasure forced several athletes to declare their use of performance-enhancing substances and methods, many, only after making millions off their trade.
The recent spat between WADA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only serves to highlight the growing divide in the fight for clean sport, leaving many wondering who is really committed to ensuring compliance with the requirements of a level playing field in sport.
The past Summer has been characterised by the issues of what appears to be State-sponsored doping and the absence of a cohesive global policy. This has left the IOC forced on the defensive and looking decidedly wobbly in many respects.
The fact is that the matter of clean sport should be an imperative. Cleary evidence suggests that it is not.
Winning at all cost, the financial rewards and global recognition of winners have become the most important challenge to clean sport.
The global community – political, economic, social and sporting – must come together to determine how they wish the future of sport to emerge and impact successive generations of world youth.
It is either we wish to play games with the lives of successive generations of youth, debunking all of the philosophical ideas of global sporting history or commit them to a new era in sport that is firmly rooted in authentic fair play and intent on making a genuine, sustainable contribution to the creation and maintenance of a united, peaceful world.