Another crisis year for sport?

If 2015 could be described as the year of the great football expose regarding extensive corruption in sport, 2016 can easily be described as the year of the great expose of drugs in sport. Suffice it to say that there was no shortage of sporting scandals as has become normative over the past several years.

The McLaren Report into doping has revealed what many have deemed a bombshell in sport drug use. Why so many have found this surprising is itself difficult to understand. We should have expected this and much more. There may well be reason enough to believe that much worse is ahead of us.

 

McLaren Report

The first McLaren Report was followed by a second. The latter, far more detailed, was released on 9 December 2016.

The essence of the findings is as per MsLaren’s own words:

An institutional conspiracy existed across summer and winter sports athletes who participated with Russian officials within the Ministry of Sport and its infrastructure, such as the RUSADA, CSP and the Moscow Laboratory, along with the FSB for the purposes of manipulating doping controls. The summer and winter sports athletes were not acting individually but within an organised infrastructure as reported on in the first Report.

This systematic and centralised cover up and manipulation of the doping control process evolved and was refined over the course of its use at London 2012 Summer Games, Universiade Games 2013, Moscow IAAF World Championships 2013, and the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The evolution of the infrastructure was also spawned in response to WADA regulatory changes and surprise interventions.

Not since the revelations of extensive doping under the former East German government has the world of sport been exposed to what is now being presented to the global community. Evidence points to unquestionable State involvement to dupe the sporting world into believing that the Russian sport system was working to produce world beaters, at a time when it could not have been achieved without the support of drugs.

McLaren stated …The swapping of Russian athletes’ urine samples further confirmed in this second Report as occurring at Sochi, did not stop at the close of the Winter Olympics. The sample swapping technique used at Sochi became a regular monthly practice of the Moscow Laboratory in dealing with elite summer and winter athletes. Further DNA and salt testing confirms the technique, while others relied on DPM.

McLaren reported that …Over 1000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sport, can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests. Based on the information reported to International Federations through the IP to WADA there are 600 (84%) summer athletes and 95 (16%) winter athletes. Fifteen Russian athlete medal winners were identified out of the 78 on the London Washout Lists. Ten of these athletes have now had their medals stripped.

Following the 2013 IAAF Moscow World Championships, 4 athletics athletes’ samples were swapped. Additional target testing is in progress.

Sample swapping is established by 2 female ice hockey players’ samples with male DNA.

Tampering with original sample established by 2 [sport] athletes, winners of four Sochi Olympic Gold medals, and a female Silver medal winner in [sport] with physiologically impossible salt readings.

Twelve medal winning athletes (including the above 3) from 44 examined samples had scratches and marks on the inside of the caps of their B sample bottles, indicating tampering.

Six winners of 21 Paralympic medals are found to have had their urine samples tampered with at Sochi.

The report is truly damning in all respects and it is incredible that the Russian authorities seemed prepared to pretend that the report was only a ruse to deflect a more profligate drug use by athletes across the world.

 

Other countries & sports

While the McLaren report specifically outlined the case of State-sponsored doping, the Russians took time to suggest that athletes from several other countries around the world have been engaged in the use of performance-enhancing substances and methods. This is also very true.

The fact is that evidence is available in abundance to support the Russian claim. We do not have to look very far.

Floyd Landis blew the whistle on Lance Armstrong but only after he had been himself caught. The world of cycling is well-known for a significant number of doping cases.

Track and Field athletics has also been hounded by numerous positive drug tests that include not just Ben Johnson, but a majority of the finalists of the very same 100m in the Seoul Olympics 1988.
While Marion Jones was never caught she nonetheless eventually confessed and served time for lying to the Grand Jury in the USA. Her one-time boyfriend and 100m world record holder, Tim Montgomery, was involved in the scandal of the BALCO doping scheme that also snared British sprinter, Dwain Chambers.

Several US baseball stars have been exposed as having been major users of performance-enhancing substances and methods, not the least of whom are Barry Bonds and Mark McQuire.

Drug use among weightlifters is legendary. Indeed, at one point the international federation for the sport cancelled all existing world records by changing the weight categories. One is sure that this has not in any way stopped drug use in the sport.

We are now well aware that drug cheats have been found in football, swimming, tennis, shooting, archery, and a flurry of winter sports, to name but a few.

 

Impact and response

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was among the first to respond to the first McLaren Report. At the time, some of the other international federations appeared very reticent. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself seemed a bit lethargic.

At the IOC Session in Rio on the eve of the Summer Olympics earlier this year the IOC and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) engaged in open sparring, much to the consternation of many in attendance and to the seeming dismay of the international sport media.

Even though the two – IOC and WADA – have publicly buried the hatchet there are many who remain circumspect of the relationship and see the former as still smarting over WADA’s forthright stance going forward.

Some still believe that because WADA receives so much financial support from the IOC that it may well be difficult for it to maintain the complete independence that is required of an organisation of its nature.

In the aftermath of the release of the second part of the McLaren Report in early December, the IOC has been pushed on the back foot, where it has had to publicly declare that action must be taken in respect of those proven drug cheats.

The action of the IAAF has allowed the organisation to stand tall amongst international sports federations in respect of its avowed commitment to wage an incessant war on drugs in the sport.

 

Funding issues

Many international sport federations now find themselves in a major quandary. They are forced to commit much of their finances to defend the clean athletes in their respective sports. The annual budgets for the fight against drugs in the different sports continue to climb almost exponentially, and increasingly, at the expense of the development of the sport.

International sports federations are being challenged by their member federations and athletes in respect of their priorities.

Can international sport federations justify increasing expenditures on the fight against drugs and allow expenditures on development issues impacting the sport to go into reverse?

Another major issue is to what extent international federations are constrained by sponsors?

When the FIFA scandal broke in 2015 a number of major sponsors got into the act, almost threatening to withdraw from supporting the sport if the organisation does not fall in line with good governance principles and practices. However, there were many sceptics who insisted that the benefits the sponsors received from the global popularity of the sport was enough to ensure that none of them made good on the threats they initiated.

In respect of doping in sport, the situation differs in so far as some sponsors, eager to break with some sports, may well have seized the opportunity to distance themselves, claiming that it has to do with their ethical stance regarding clean sport. However, closer analysis of those sponsors taking this stance would perhaps reveal something very different. The matter of their ethical standards may be highly questionable.

 

Sporting crisis?

Financial experts around the world point to the continued expansion of the global sport industry, with no end in sight. This is so regardless of the incidence of drug use by athletes in different sports.

What has changed and continues to do so is the interest being shown in adrenaline-pumping sports. New sports are emerging all of the time and many are posing threats to traditional sports.
Not surprisingly, traditional sports have been forced to make adjustments in order to remain relevant. Thus we now have 20/20 being the most popular and lucrative form of international cricket. Three-on three basketball is the new variant of the game. The list of changes continues to increase in length.

Drugs in any form of sport threatens to be a major spoiler. The challenge is obviously, money.

In many respects sports that generate windfall profits would continue to attract major sponsors and viewers around the world.

Many may frown at the fact that drugs may well have facilitated better performances but the viewers remain enthralled by such performances. This is the reason that we are currently hearing a call for allowing athletes to use drugs, if they so choose.
Today’s generation seem more interested in seeing the ultimate achievements of an athlete regardless of whether or not he/she uses drug to attain them. This seems to be the way of the world today.

 

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