The old people say that life is what you make it. This seems so true when one reflects on the way in which the Vincentian media and sports reporters and commentators jumped on the fact that Natasha Mayers was selected to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
There are many who have suggested, especially in the recent past, that St Vincent and the Grenadines has long since lost the capacity to be a Christian society; we have lost the art of caring and we have certainly left no room for forgiveness.
Indeed it is therefore not the least remarkable that our religious organisations continue to witness declining numbers in attendance at their respective services.
In many respects we are fast losing the art of being human.
The case of Natasha Mayers
It was in 2004 following her participation in the Summer Olympics of Athens, Greece, that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) informed the governing body for the sport here that Natasha Mayers had tested positive for testosterone. It was the first known Vincentian athlete to have tested positive at any level and the fact that entering the Olympics that year Natasha was ranked 11th in the world in the 100m did not make it any easier for Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines followed due process in accordance with the IAAF’s regulations and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and the athlete responded. The final decision was that Natasha Mayers received a four-year ban by the IAF and of course, Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Natasha apologised for her indiscretion and agreed that the heavy demands placed on athletes to access the top echelons of the sport and the desire to be among the very best colluded to lead her in the direction of performance enhancing drugs. She was remorseful and expressed the hope that once the sentence was over she would wish to make amends and once more represent St Vincent and the Grenadines in the sport.
The rules stipulate that the athlete is responsible for whatever is found in his/her body and so she accepted full responsibility apportioning blame nowhere else.
No one recalls the media, including sport commentators, at the time referring to Natasha Mayers as a disgraced Vincentian athlete. There was no great debate about the incident and Vincentians in the Diaspora remained silent.
Today, several years later, with Natasha back in competition for two years now, the response to her comeback in some quarters leaves her a disgraced Vincentian athlete.
This is perhaps the first time in Vincentian history that we have attempted to characterise anyone as a disgraced person in the field of sport.
Four years is a very long time to be kept away from the sport of one’s choice but in the case of Natasha Mayers it was her penalty for failing a drugs test.
There is nothing in the rules of the IAAF that stipulates than an athlete who has tested positive cannot return to the sport after the expiration of the designated sentence.
There is nothing in the rules of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines that speaks to preventing any such athlete from returning to the sport nor from representing St Vincent and the Grenadines again once the sentence has been completed.
It is common practice in life generally that the justice system makes provisions for individuals who have been found guilty to serve out the appropriate sentence and thereafter to return to society. Of course there are some sentences that seek to debar the individual from re-entering society.
Generally too, the justice system is ever hopeful that its sentencing is such that it rehabilitates the individual who has been found guilty to the extent that he/she escapes the blight of recidivism.
It is the same in sport. The penalties for the use of drugs are designed to relate directly to the particular substances used and the overall impact on the athlete. The WADA and the IAAF have agreed on sentences for different types of doping offences that permit athletes to return to the sport just as offenders in the broader system are allowed to return to society.
As with society so too in sport, much depends on the responsiveness of the community to the one time offender. In the case of athletics the athletes do not have a problem with the athletes returning to the sport. They have developed a sense of what is involved and understand the different circumstances that may have caused the problem in the first place.
In sport fellow athletes are disposed to giving second chances to each other. This is often the case in society as well relative to the offender in the justice system.
Natasha Mayers has paid her dues and it is she who has to determine just how she will continue her career in the sport of her choice – athletics. She has spent four years away from active competition but has maintained her interest in athletics and her desire to once more represent St Vincent and the
Is there something wrong with that?
To suggest that there is something wrong here and that the athlete is to be forever considered disgraced is to reject the fundamental Christian belief system by which so many Vincentians claim to live.
People do make mistakes in life and in some cases the penalty is death. In other cases we are forever hopeful that the allocated penalty would be sufficient to allow them to see the error of their ways, repent, review their lives and return to society to make a meaningful contribution.
What therefore gives anyone the right to forever hold our shortcomings and failings over our heads never letting up?
Perhaps we have become a society of perfectionists and would want all offenders located on some new island, away from the rest of us who lay claim to self-righteous indignation.
The return of Natasha Mayers
Before Natasha Mayers was allowed to return to the sport of athletics she had to meet certain criteria established by the IAAF. She had to provide the IAAF with her whereabouts such that they could, without prior notice, call upon her and request an ‘out of competition’ drug test within a specified period. She had to undergo several of these compulsory measures. The reports indicate that she satisfied all of the requirements and the IAAF informed Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines that she was duly reinstated and eligible to compete in events around the world under its aegis and to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Since being fully cleared Natasha has requested permission to be considered for selection to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines in competition. With no objections in her way legally, her request was approved. She has since been submitting her performances to TASVG.
Natasha Mayers was not reminded at the time of the approval of her indiscretion because it was not necessary to do so. Instead she was reminded of her responsibility to train hard, work diligently at her craft and proudly strive to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines at the highest level with distinction.
In many respects it is all up to Natasha Mayers to make with her sport career that which she chooses. As she is responsible for what she consumes according to the WADA Code so she is responsible for her future in athletics. The choice is hers. She does not have to be hounded with her past.
During the course of this year Natasha Mayers was being considered for the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. Unfortunately she opted out of the CAC Games and gained selection for the Commonwealth Games.
For the record Natasha Mayers represented St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2002, where she was eight in the 100m final and fourth in the 200m final.
The recent cases of Britains’s Dwain Chambers and America’s Justin Gatlin, both of whom served bans and have since been reinstated should have served as interesting examples of what obtains globally.
In the case of Britain, the media immediately labelled Chambers disgraced. He was and still is so labelled for the most part even as he won the gold medal at the IAAF’s World Indoor Championships in Qatar earlier this year.
In the case of America, Justin Gatlin is being seen as perhaps the single biggest threat to Usain Bolt in the sprints alongside fellow American, Tyson Gay.
The Vincentian media has obviously chosen the British model in labelling Natasha Mayers a disgraced athlete.
We are in interesting times. Only last week the international media received news of the positive drug test on three-time Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, a cloud of suspicion remains over Lance Armstrong, some of Jamaica’s sprinters, male and female have tested positive, America’s Baseball has been hit by several confessions including the much-touted A-Rod – Alex Rodriguez.
Former champion, Boris Becker, has raised questions in the past about drugs in Tennis and many critics seem to think that sports like Golf, Shooting and Archery are also tainted.
Juan Antonio Samaranch’s suggestion just before the end of the last millennium to consider starting afresh with world records may well have been a significant allusion to the wide and wonderful world of sport we have around us today.
No one wishes to condone the use of performance enhancing drugs to win. But at the same time we have around us no shortage of examples of people who are prepared to do whatever it takes to win. Is this not what we are witnessing in national politics at present, even at the internal party political level?
Did we not have students cheating in examinations having colluded? Have we not had reports of cheating at a broader scale in a number of different aspects of Vincentian life?
The point being made here is that we have been transformed into a society where we seem to condone cheating in some areas but remain sharply critical in others.
Natasha Mayers, like so many others, has served her time. The future lies ahead of her and only she can determine what she makes of it.
She ought not have to hear her fellow Vincentians so eagerly and repeatedly label her, disgraced.
The choice is hers to make.