The major challenge of modern sport
If one were to follow closely the developments in sport over the past several months it is impossible to ignore the seeming fracas between the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
At the IOC Session convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the eve of the commencement of the Summer Olympics earlier this year, things came to a rather embarrassing head as the leadership of the two organisations resisted the temptation to accept the finger-pointing of the other.
The recent announcement that there has been some sort of compromise agreement reached between WADA and the IOC on the way forward leaves much to be desired and the main objective, protection of the clean athlete, is certainly nowhere near achievement.
Background to a crisis
In the days of East Germany it appeared that the athletes from that country were simply superior to those of the rest of the world, especially in swimming and track and field athletics.
Actually, in athletics, it appeared as though the athletes from the Soviet Union and its allies were significantly superior in a number of events.
While many may have thought of it, mention was not made of official State sponsorship of the use of drugs in sport. Many were content in accepting that the approach of the Eastern Bloc countries and supporters like Cuba, was to use sport to showcase, not only that they possessed great athletes and athletic potential, but that their success could only be attributed to the superiority of the political system that underpinned their respective approaches to development.
In many respects therefore the sport arena became the scene for the merits and demerits of political systems – East and West.
It was not until after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany that it became clear that the former East German political regime deliberately engaged in the sponsorship of the use of performance-enhancing drugs and methods to help their athletes show superior performances in sport competition.
The evidence suggests that the ruling regime left no stone unturned in its attempt at showing that its ideological system was superior and that outstanding performances of its athletes was proof of this.
Interestingly, while much attention was paid to the Eastern Bloc countries and their supporters Western societies received much less attention in respect of breaking the rules of use of drugs in sport.
Wade Exum of the US was hung out to dry for revelations relating to athletes whom he insisted had failed drug tests in the US trials in the lead up to the Summer Olympics scheduled fro Seoul, South Korea in 1988.
As it subsequently turned out it now appears that the field in the 100m finals in Seoul, may have been an exemplar of the benefits of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Chris Hall and Richard Moore, wrote in Mail Online on 7 July 2012, an article that was captioned …The dirtiest race in history: 1998’s Olympic 100m final, the year that steroids turned sport sour.
Hall and Moore wrote … Five of the other seven athletes in the race subsequently went on to test positive or be involved in the use or supply of performance enhancing drugs.
Writing in The Guardian on 24 April 2003, Duncan Mackay stated… Carl Lewis has broken his silence on allegations that he was the beneficiary of a drugs cover-up, admitting he had tested positive for banned substances but claiming he was just one of “hundreds” of American athletes who were allowed to escape bans.
“There were hundreds of people getting off,” he said. “Everyone was treated the same.”
Lewis has now acknowledged that he failed three tests during the 1988 US Olympic trials, which under international rules at the time should have prevented him from competing in the Seoul games two months later.
Lewis showed little by way of remorse. Mackay wrote …Lewis, 41, said he was not concerned about the uproar around the world caused by the revelations. “It’s ridiculous. Who cares?” he said. “I did 18 years of track and field and I’ve been retired five years, and they’re still talking about me, so I guess I still have it.”
The point being made here is that in athletics, it appeared that many athletes were on to something in an effort to enhance performance. This approach has of course left small, poor nations, well behind in the field of competition.
Lewis is correct in suggesting, who cares? At the end of the day people seem more favorably disposed to remembering performances rather than the method they used in achieving their successes.
On 18 July 2016 Canada’s CBC Sports carried a piece that stated … An independent investigation led by a Canadian law professor has confirmed evidence of widespread, state-sponsored doping in Russian sports, further fuelling calls for a full ban on the country from next month’s Rio Olympics.
Richard McLaren of Western University in London, Ont., released his findings today at news conference in Toronto, saying labs in Moscow and Sochi protected Russian athletes.
In short, Russia’s deputy minister of sports, who was also part of Russia’s Olympic Committee, would direct workers at Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory of which positive samples to send through and which to hold back. Assisting the plan was Russia’s national security service — the FSB, the current version of the Soviet Union’s KGB.
McLaren said Russia’s cheating program, which he dubbed the “disappearing positive methodology,” lasted from 2011 — shortly after Russia’s disappointing showing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — through at least last year’s world swimming championships in Kazan, Russia. His timeframe includes the 2013 track and field world championships in Moscow.
The International of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was quick to act, suspending Russian athletes. This meant that the athletes could not compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio.
Not long thereafter, the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) also banned all Russian athletes from participating in the Paralympic Games in Rio, following the conclusion of the Summer Olympics.
Russian athlete, Yuliya Stepanova, literally blew the whistle on her fellow athletes and exposed what amounts to State-sponsored cheating in the sport of athletics.
On 9 June 2016 CBC Sports carried an article in which it referenced Victor Conte of the infamous BALCO controversy that seemed to have helped Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones in the past. The reference stated … Victor Conte says the record books should be wiped clean in track and field, and the sport should begin fresh with a testing regime that actually works and will finally ferret out cheaters.
“It’s a mess,” Conte says over the phone from California. “The incentive to cheat is greater than the price you have to pay if you get caught.”
It is most interesting to note that Conte’s statement in 2016 is much the same as that of IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, speaking at the turn of the last century. The two seem to suggest that their knowledge of how the records have been set leaves so much doubt that we might as well clean the slate and start afresh.
But how do we clean the slate?
How do we start afresh?
The conflict between the IOC and WADA surfaced because it appears that the former was hesitant to take decisive action subsequent to the publication of the McLaren report.
At issue may well have been a concern over whether the IOC was afraid that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, would have precipitated an international boycott of the Games in Rio.
Longstanding IOC member, Richard (Dick) Pound, of Canada, expressed concern over the IOC’s hesitancy in the lead up to the Rio Olympics and he may have had good reason to be bothered.
Many ponder whether the central issue is one of power and control.
Some ponder whether WADA is sufficiently independent as an institution given that it relies heavily on funding from the IOC. Does this dependency stand in the way of its ability to stand firmly on principle?
Does the fact that WADA has among its membership members of the IOC in any way prevent the organization from being able to do its work as objectively and dispassionately as desired?
The recent spat between WADA and the IOC may leave wounds that could impact the relationship between the two institutions going forward. Many may perhaps wonder whether this would in any way negatively impact their commitment to protecting the clean athlete and guaranteeing clean sport.