In the recent past the idea has been mooted that given the most recent scandals regarding doping in the sport of track and field athletics it is perhaps advisable that the sport’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), should consider cancelling all existing world records and start afresh.
Before addressing the latest suggestion we must acknowledge that this is not the first time that such a proposal has been mooted. In 1999 it was then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who declared, much to the surprise of many of the world’s sport leaders, that at the turn of the century all existing world records should be abandoned and allow new records to be established effective the beginning of the new millennium.
Samaranch’s proposal was met with much derision because of what it intimated to the world, namely that many of the existing world records at the time may have been tainted and should not be carried forward.
There were some sport analysts who wondered whether Samaranch knew something about the extent of doping in sport that he was not prepared to openly discuss. In any event his suggestion was not widely supported and eventually dropped.
If we were to engage in a meaningful discourse on the concept of wiping the slate clean off all world records we must examine the reality that exists. Too often we sweep things under the rug in order not to confront them for what they are. That is common in Caribbean and Vincentian politics in particular. The incessant threats of lawsuits by our leaders serve as a major deterrent to people coming forward with truth. Not many leaders are of the order of Nelson Mandela, brave enough have a Truth Commission established so that everything comes out in the open. The failure of our own political leadership here to introduce Integrity Legislation as promised after 15 years in office tells a most awful tale.
Why would anyone at the leadership level of an international sport send out a clarion call for closure on the existing world records and the commencement of a new list immediately thereafter?
The obvious answer would be that there is strong reason to believe that the existing world records are tainted by the use of performance-enhancing substances and/or methods. But is this a fair claim?
Is it fair to assume that all of the world records are tainted or should we say that many of them are tainted?
If we assume that many are tainted it means that we believe that some are not and therefore to wipe the slate clean would render those who legitimately established world records to be included amongst the cheats in the different sporting disciplines. This obviously cannot be fair.
Let us therefore examine the reality as we know it.
This sport was an early and relatively easy target. Indeed the performances became so incredible that before the turn of the last century the authorities of the sport literally accepted that much was wrong and changed many of the weight categories. This essentially led to the establishment of more realistic records under the keen eye of anti-doping agencies in the sport.
Cycling has had a very long history of cyclists using different means of getting an extra edge to access fame and glory associated with winning even before there was money in the sport.
The Lance Armstrong debacle has received extensive global coverage and does not need any further exposure here. Suffice it to say that Cycling has had a very rough ride and the governing body, UCI, has been working diligently to return the sport to come measure of credibility.
No so long ago the media stimulated great interest in what has been popularly known as a sort of home run derby in the sport of Baseball. At the time that the media got it going the focus was on Mark Maguire, who was aiming to establish a record for the number of home runs struck in a single season.
Eager for records to be broken so that we can extol the virtues of human endeavour the US media failed to focus attention on Maguire’s physical transformation. They failed to ask what were the critical factors responsible for this sudden change in his modus in the game.
Following Maguire we had Sammy Sosa engaging in a race to set a new record beyond that established by Maguire. The debacle with the broken bat was one startling revelation and that led to other things. That was the end of Sosa but not the end of shenanigans in the sport.
We then had Barry Bonds, who, up until that time, had been one of the doyens of the game as a black person.
Alex Rodriguez admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs some years ago because of the pressure felt he was he was under to perform.
Some researchers claim that doping in athletics dates as far back as the Ancient Olympics held in Greece. Whatever about that the reality is that in the 20th century things heated up in respect of the performances delivered by athletes.
There is now incontrovertible evidence of the government-orchestrated East German doping strategy aimed at showcasing to the world that the political ideology upon which the ruling regime was firmly planted gave priority to sport and this resulted in their dominance in competition.
At one point serious questions were raised about the performances of athletes from the Soviet-block (USSR) countries and their allies such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and even Cuba. Of course everyone denied that there was any truth to the allegations of extensive doping regimens and performance-enhancing methodologies being used by their coaches and athletes.
Interestingly, it was the odd athlete that was caught until the IAAF, effective 1991, insisted on strong penalties for cheats and spent millions on its drug-testing programme. But many saw this as a sham since several athletes still managed to escape. Thanks to the revelations of Dr Wade Exum we learnt of the US athletes who had tested positive at that country’s athletics trials prior to the Seoul Olympics and who had been allowed to compete in Seoul and win medals.
Many are still bewildered by Florence Griffith-Joyner’s sudden rise to sprinting dominance in 1988 that set an awesome 100m and 200m world records. Her early death remains something of a mystery to many.
What is amazingly known today is that over the years several athletes were engaged in unsavoury performance-enhancing practices and yet only a few of their athletes were ever caught in the IAAF’s net. The most recent WADA revelations about the Russians may well only be the tip of the iceberg and we can look forward to a near-incessant flow of information as the plot thickens.
These two sports require amazing stability and focus on the part of the athletes practising them. Not surprisingly it has been found that some athletes have been using marijuana to facilitate better performances resulting from the calming effect of the drug.
Perhaps it is because little global attention is paid to these sports that we have not had more revelations about cheating by athletes practising them.
It was the tennis star, Boris Becker, who started raising questions about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the top players in the sport.
Prior to his pronouncements the authorities in the sport have been engage din a robust drug-testing programme.
Interestingly in very recent times have been the even more startling accusations of match-fixing in the sport of tennis.
Cricket has also come under the microscope as the sport tries to maintain a clean image. Concerns have been raised in some quarters about the performance of some cricketers, especially fast bowlers, who seemed to have had a rather unique capacity to bowl faster as they got older (as in post 30 years).
It was known that some cricketers were users of marijuana and it was thought that this was to assist with their desire to maintain a very calm disposition and focus while on the field of play.
In the more recent past cricket authorities have focused on the involvement of players and officials in match fixing.
Many seem to think that one of the biggest culprits of the use of performance-enhancing drugs is in American Football. However there appears to be major challenges in getting the authorities of that sport to facilitate a WADA-type approach to drug-testing. Some wonder about the behaviour of several high-profile athletes off the field and whether this is linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The physiological structure of the players of the game, even at the collegiate level may well be cause for concern just as much as the early death of some stars.
Golf is also falling under some scrutiny since it requires a great deal of calm and focus on the part of the athletes playing the game.
The immense appeal of money in today’s world, the importance of fame and enhanced social status as well as the strong desire on the part of an increasing number of people to see the ultimate potential of the human body realised collude to engender unrivalled interest in using whatever is deemed necessary to gain the competitive edge.
Lance Armstrong’s confessions appear to have served, not as a deterrent to others in sport, but rather as an incentive to engage in ever-more capricious adventures into the world of cheating in sport.
The more millions poured into research to detect cheats the more cheats devise new methodologies and products.
The IOC’s shift in focus to that of protecting the clean athlete is interesting. The hope is that it will generate a significant paradigm shift. It has only just begun so the jury is still out.