International Athletics now facing the heat

32334958It was bound to happen sooner or later. The world of track and field athletics was, at some point, sure to become the focus of global attention in respect of the way in which it treated athletes who, by their actions, threatened to bring the sport into disrepute.

For much of the past few years attention in sport has been distracted to the startling revelations of cyclist, Lance Armstrong, once considered the doyen of international sport enthusiasts.

Despite the squealing that began a few years before he made his official pronouncements, Armstrong was vehement in his denial that every one who even so much as suggested he was a drugs cheat was a liar.

Floyd Landis, once a member of Armstrong’s US Postal Service cycling team, tested positive in the Tour de France – the world’s most gruelling annual cycling event, in 2006. He tried for several years to fight the results only to yield the truth in an interview with ESPN.com’s, Bonie D Ford, in May 2010, four years later.

Ford wrote on 21 May 2010 “…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.

Landis confirmed he sent e-mails to cycling and anti-doping officials over the past few weeks, implicating dozens of other athletes including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, team management and owners, and officials of the sport’s national and international governing bodies.”

In quick response, we have this information, “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.” This was referenced in Ford’s article of 21 May 2010.

The stark truth is that Armstrong managed an amazing drug use programme for he and the members of his road race cycling team for several years. What credibility then was Armstrong referring to in the quotation above?

That Armstrong and his teammates were able to get away without being caught by the so-called robust drug testing system of the International Cycling Union remains something of a travesty.

To this day many still wonder just how much did the cycling authorities know about Armstrong and his drug use programme.

Did they not find it amazing that a man who once claimed to have had cancer could survive enough to defy the laws of biology and physiology by winning seven editions of the Tour de France?

Did Armstrong’s story not appear too incredible to be true?

Was he ever caught and the findings dumped?

Did they know that he was cheating all of the years to which he eventually confessed?

The international cycling community seemed not to be unduly bothered by the severity of Armstrong’s extravagant drug use programme and has gone about its business as though it never happened.

But more questions lurk in the shadows of international cycling and it is certainly not restricted to road cycling.

Can cycling ever really escape the suspicion of sport fans around the world?

Can road racing ever again be considered credible?

 

Track and field athletics

Track and field athletics has had it ups and downs in respect if doping scandals and this started long before Ben Johnson ever thought of running as a career option.

There are those historians who would claim that as far back as the Olympic Games of antiquity athletes used performance-enhancing substances to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents in pursuit of fame and glory, whatever about the honour of the sport.

Long before the official revelations of the former East German sport development strategy that saw a systematic farming of athletes fed on performance-enhancing substances for the better part of their lives, there were suspicions about some incredible performances especially by female athletes from the Eastern European countries. Some records still stand to this day despite their seeming defiance of logic in sport.

There was mention of rumours that Eastern European athletes trekking off to a ship in the St Laurence River during the Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada in 1976. Stories are told of the syringes that were dumped in the same river following the conclusion of the mega sporting event.

For many years the focus was on Eastern Europe but everyone involve din the sport knew that the scourge of drug use in the sport was certainly not confined to that part of the world.

The case of Ben Johnson was most interesting yet in the aftermath, the world has come to ponder whether anyone in the finals of that men’s 100m in Seoul in 1988 was free of performance-enhancing drugs at the time. The reality is that only Ben Johnson was targeted and made a global scapegoat for the sport. The question is why?

Did the sport and Olympic authorities at the time knew that the drug business in the sport was much deeper than the results in Seoul suggested? If they knew this why did they not do more? Were they afraid of the impact revelation would have had at the time on both track and field athletics and the Olympic Games where the former sport served as the queen of the festival?

While Ben Johnson was being made an example to the rest of the track and field world, Wade Exum of the US appeared to have been silenced, at least for a while, about reports that some of the American athletes who went to Seoul and who won medals there had actually tested positive at the US Trials for the same Games. There are some who believe that Exum was made a target by authorities and silenced until he made his own startling revelations several years later.

History will reveal that there may not have been a level playing field in track and field athletics regarding the approach to drug testing as well as to the revelation of drug cheats and the application of sanctions.

While some have been publicly castigated, if not castrated, others appear to have either been left to their own devices or given a slap on the wrist.

 

New leaks in athletics

In the recent past the world has been exposed to some starling revelations in track and field athletics. Much of the information emerged out of Germany where the claim was made that information came, in large measure, from leaks.

It is always difficult to take leaks seriously but as always there is a hint of truth.

So it is that the revelations pointed to scores of international athlete shaving tested positive and getting away with impunity.

There was an accusation of a major cover-up of the positive tests.

For the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) the revelations also came at a time when Accusations were levelled at the organisation’s president’s son, Papa Diack, regarding receipt of payments to facilitate Qatar’s winning of the bid to host the prestigious World Outdoor Athletics Championships. Papa Diack was asked to relinquish his IAAAF duties pending the outcome of an investigation into the accusations. He is now officially charged by the IAAF.

One is not quite certain why Lamine Diack, as president of the IAAF would have allowed his son to occupy a consultancy with the organisation he headed.

A BBC article dated 7 November 2015 stated,

“Along with Papa Massata Diack, the other three men charged by the IAAF are: the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department Gabriel Dolle, the former president of the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) Alexei Melnikov and Valentin Balakhnichev, a former chief ARAF coach for long distance walkers and runners.”

The IAAF’s initial response to the accusations of large-scale doping in the sport highlighted that the organisation has the most robust drug testing programmes in global sport and the statistics are there to prove it. The organisation admitted to taking action in all instances where athletes are found to have used performance-enhancing substances.

 

Diack’s arrest

Last week Lamine Diack, a former Minister of Sport in his native Senegal, long-serving member of the IAAF, former president of the organisation and IOC member until earlier this year, was arrested along with his advisor, Habib Cisse. They were detained for two days before being released.

To many the arrest came as a shock. The French authorities made it known that Diack and his aide are under investigation relative to the accusation of a major cover up in the sport of athletics regarding major positive drug tests amongst top athletes.

For his part Lord Coe, in responding to questions from The Sunday Times over the past weekend stated, “Every doping case currently being investigated by WADA was first identified by the IAAF through its athlete biological passport (ABP) programme.  Every athlete found in violation has been charged and sanctioned.   The IAAF believes the period of disqualification of results was too leniently applied by the Russian Federation and has been seeking an extension of these disqualifications through the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) in fairness of clean athletes.  The cases are currently pending before CAS.”

Coming in the wake of the ever-expanding corruption crisis in world football’s governing body, FIFA, the latest news regarding the IAAF’s officials bodes no good for the sport, especially as former British middle-distance runner and leader of London 2012 Olympics, Lord Sebastian Coe, has only recently taken hold of the reins of the sport’s governing body.

Coe has given French authorities a clear indication that the IAAF will lend its full support to the investigation.

Coe told The Sunday Times, “We are not complacent.  Where there are fragilities in the system that may have allowed extortion, no matter how unsuccessful, we will strengthen them and the independent integrity unit which I will establish next month will include an independent tribunal to hear all integrity related violations committed by international level athletes and their support personnel.  We will take the hearing process out of the hands of individual member federations.”

The IAAF president is confident that the IAAF will continue to do all it can to protect the clean athlete, a critical feature to keep the sport alive.

 

More questions

Man has always sought to push himself to attain new heights in terms of sport. While this is admirable there are some achievements that simply defy what we have come to see and know in physiology and biology.

No one wants to place every athlete who accomplishes an outstanding achievement with the use of performance-enhancing substances. However, history and experience have taught us enough to allow for appropriate suspicions to be raised when certain performances are achieved.

The global sporting reality has forced the creation of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) that consumes millions of dollars each year in pursuit of research aimed at catching the drug cheats and increasingly, creating a range of education tools for global youth in sport, a sort of pre-emptive strike.

But WADA seems to be lagging behind as researchers seek out new products and strategies to allow for the achievement of better performances while escaping the organisation’s dragnet.

WADA’s new Code now allows for the retention of drug-testing samples for a period of 10 years as against the eight years under the previous edition. What difference would this make beyond ad hoc revelations of performances long past and the deflation of heroic status of the performers involved? The most recent report by WADA has revealed the despicable goings-on in Russian athletics. Head of the Commission, Richard Pound, has urged that should there not be immediate change the Russians be prevented from participating in the Olympics in Brazil next year.

Increasingly, therefore, protagonists of two separate types of competitions gain ground. They wish to see one set of competitions for the clean athlete and another for those who by their anxiety to take human capabilities to newer heights by using whatever is the trend in performance-enhancement additives, wish to leave their mark on sporting history, however disturbing and unethical that may be.

 

 

Sharing is caring!