This week the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the sport’s governing body – despite there being very few amateurs these days – came under fire, accused of failing ‘to act on suspicious blood tests involving hundreds of athletes between 2001 and 2012.’
Not surprisingly there were some who took offence at such accusations and the man tipped to become the next President of the IAAF Lord Coe came out firing “It is a declaration of war on my sport,” Coe said, in an interview with Associated Press. “I take pretty grave exception to that. This, for me, is a fairly seminal moment. There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug-testing that warrants this kind of attack. We should not be cowering. We should come out fighting. Nobody should underestimate the anger at the way our sport has been portrayed. The fightback has to start here. We cannot be portrayed as a sport that is dragging our heels.”
Lord Coe’s response came hot on the heels of a 4000 word official response from the IAAF on Tuesday. In that response it hit out at what it called the “sensationalist and confusing” reports. Not surprisingly it vehemently denied it was complicit in a doping cover-up. The IAAF was also scathing in relation to the Whistleblower that they claimed had released “private and confidential medical data that was obtained from the IAAF without consent.”
Media reports claimed to have examined the results of 12,000 blood tests involving 5,000 athletes from 2001 to 2012, and concluded that 800 were suspicious. The reports published in Britain’s The Sunday Times and also on German Broadcaster ARD said that 146 medals – including 55 golds – in disciplines ranging from the 800 metres to the marathon at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who had recorded suspicious tests.
Two Australian anti-doping scientists, Robin Parisotto and Michael Ashenden, were tasked by The Sunday Times to interpret the data. Robin Parisotto was quoted as saying that he had “never seen such an alarmingly abnormal set of blood values” and that “many athletes appear to have doped with impunity.”
While Michael Ashenden did not hold back describing athletics as being in the same “diabolical position” as cycling during the Lance Armstrong era. He is quoted as saying in relation to the IAAF that it was “a shameful betrayal of primary duty to police their sport and to protect clean athletes”.
Not surprisingly these comments riled the IAAF and also Lord Coe who said “These so-called experts – give me a break. The IAAF has a commission of three independent experts who have tested and checked thousands of blood samples, I know who I would believe.”
In its statement the IAAF argued that Parisotto and Ashenden’s verdict was “unscientific” and they had “no authority” to make such a judgment. They also claimed the the World Anti Doping Authority was well aware of the findings, despite a WADA spokesperson being quoted as saying the organisation was “very disturbed by these new allegations.”
Many in the media are saying that only the appointment of Lord Coe as the new President or his running rival for the post ex Pole Vault Champion Sergei Bubka can save the sport. If that is in fact true then the two need to work together. Like all governing bodies in sport the world over, now that money has become such a big part of sport, we need respected and trustworthy individuals who care passionately about their sports to be at the top. There is no longer any room for self-seeking egomaniacs who are there purely for the prestige and the money. In fact such positions should not reap some of the financial rewards that they do, then and only then would we find out who was there for the sport, and who wasn’t.
There is no doubt that money has corrupted sport, with so much resting on success. Advertising and endorsements reaping vast financial returns, and often for mediocre achievements.
Athletics is no different from any other sport, in fact some could say it has done a good job catching the “drug cheats,” it is just the penalties are not adequate enough. For example five of the top sprinters in the world this year have collectively served 11 years in terms of suspension. Yet they are all taking their place on the blocks!
Sure life moves on, sure athletes deserve more financial return for their dedication to their sport but we have lost so much. We have lost the spirit of sportsmanship, respect and camaraderie. We are now losing the belief that what we see is real, achieved without the help of drugs, or the result not affected by some betting syndicate somewhere.
A month ago one of Australia’s and the worlds great runners passed away, Ron Clarke. In many of his obituaries mention was made of his battles with Emil Zatopek. Clarke was known as the best runner never to win an Olympic medal. In 1966 as Clarke was leaving Prague for London, Zatopek was given special dispensation to say goodbye airside. As he hugged his friend and competitor he put a parcel in Clarke’s hand.
Once airborne the Australian opened the package. It contained Zatopek’s Olympic Gold medal from the 10,000 metres in Helsinki in 1952. It had been inscribed in honour of Clarke. How many top athletes today have that much respect for their fellow competitors to give away an Olympic gold medal? Sure Zatopek won four, but this was an act that spoke of an era that we are unlikely to ever see again.
In that pursuit of perfection, of ultimate achievement, one cannot help but feel that sport has lost far more than it has gained.