Is it time for change in World Sport?
The Olympic Games, although only a few days old have already shown how horribly out of touch some of those governing sport are with the fans of the sports they represent, as well as the athletes.
As we have seen in world football, and the bid for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, many of the FIFA Executive Committee put themselves ahead of the game and the regions that they were supposed to represent.
All around the world other sporting organisations poured scorn on football but are they any better?
The International Olympic Committee, who takes great pride in organising the Olympic Games every four years, and determining where the Games will be held, has shown a distinct lack of leadership heading into the Rio Olympics.
We saw the Australian team on arrival refuse to stay in the village because it wasn’t ready when they arrived. Many who are at the Games have said that it is lucky that there is Air BNB because the number of hotel rooms available would have been inadequate. There have been security issues, in that queues to obtain entry to venues where fans have tickets have been held up dramatically by Security being slow to conduct their thorough and much-needed searches; maybe they simply do not have enough staff to meet the needs. Then at many of the venues there are no food outlets for people to be able to buy refreshment or a snack.
These however are cosmetic issues, but they do question whether the IOC carried out due diligence when granting Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro hosting rights.
Where the IOC has fallen down dramatically is in the handling of the Russian drug cheats.
The IOC’s decision to leave the banning of Russian athletes up to the individual global sporting bodies at their event, has made many question the need for the IOC.
The former World Anti-Doping Agency president, Dick Pound who authored one of the reports into state-sponsored doping in Russia last November, was quoted as saying that the IOC’s decision had revealed there “was zero tolerance for doping, unless it’s Russia. The IOC had a huge opportunity to make a statement. It’s been squandered.”
The IOC ignored the view of the 59-member Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations. That was a huge sign that their view is short term, rather than a long term one in trying to clean up sport.
The IOC’s ruling at the time was that each Federation would be required to produce a list of Russian athletes they believed to be clean. This would then be checked by an arbitrator from the IOC and court of arbitration for sport. They also added that any Russian with a doping conviction would be automatically barred.
This was less than two weeks before the Olympics started. Testing more than 300 Russian athletes was never going to be easy. Leaving the decision as to which Russian athletes would be allowed to compete to the individual sports was also bound to lead to a huge lack of consistency between governing bodies. Many felt that this showed a distinct lack of leadership from the IOC.
Yet the problem of drug cheats goes far deeper than just suspending Russia. As many have been saying since Ben Johnson tested positive after the 100m men’s sprint in 1988, there should be a total life ban given to any athlete found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs.
The current diplomatic war raging over Mack Horton’s comments are a prime example of a sport that lacked the guts to take a stance against drug cheats.
Horton labelled his opponent in the 400m freestyle final, Chinese runner-up Sun Yang, a “drug cheat.”
Sun Yang was the first Chinese male swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal. In London he won the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle events. In May 2014, Sun was banned for 3 months by the Chinese Swimming Association after testing positive for the stimulant trimetazidine. The drug had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list four months earlier. Sun
has always claimed innocence stating that he was prescribed the stimulant by a doctor to treat heart palpitations that he has suffered since 2008.
Of course sports fans will not forget that tennis player Maria Sharapova was recently suspended after testing positive for meldonium. Another drug usually prescribed for heart conditions. Coincidence maybe?
FINA and the IOC have made a rod for their own backs and they have brought their sport, and the Olympics into disrepute by not banning the drug cheats. Not surprisingly clean athletes are taking a stance.
The comments of Irish swimmer Fiona Doyle is one that will be talked about for years to come and so it should be. Doyle missed out on a place in the 100m breaststroke final. To add to that pain her heat was won by the Russian Yulia Efimova. A swimmer who wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the Olympic pool in Rio.
Efimova the 2012 bronze medallist and reigning World champion had served a 16-month suspension in 2013 after testing positive for anabolic steroids. In addition she tested positive again this year for the now-banned substance meldonium.
Not surprisingly, Fiona Doyle has followed Mack Horton’s lead and spoken out. ““Cheaters are cheaters,” said Doyle, “She (Efimova) has tested positive five times and she’s gotten away with it again. It’s like FINA keep going back on their word, and the IOC keep going back on their word. And FINA caved in to (Vladimir) Putin, and that’s just not fair on the rest of the athletes who are clean. Who are you supposed to trust now? They have signs all over the village saying we are a clean sport, and it’s not. And I just don’t think that’s fair.”
Doyle is right. The IOC and FINA have let their athletes down, but they are not alone.
Those running sport need to take a good hard look at why they are there. Are they there as a protector of the sport and to ensure its long term future, or are they there because its a job and it is more important to keep the status quo, and not rock the boat, as that could create more work? There are some sports where there is a third option, in that the people at the top stay there because of the ‘benefits’ their position gives them, as football has found with FIFA.
The saddest thing of all is that many of these so-called administrators – in truth they are political animals – have misjudged the mood of those who follow their sport, and those who participate. They do not want to see cheats being given second chances and winning medals at Olympic Games. They want the penalties for those who break the rules to be long lasting, and a serious deterrent to those who consider such a course of action.
Horton and Doyle, and many of the other athletes who are likely to speak out at these Olympics are right to stand up for what they believe, but sadly those charged with protecting their sport and the Olympic ideal will do nothing. They will hope that in a month when the Games are over it will be forgotten, and will pat themselves on the back claiming a job well done.
Every four years since 1920 the athletes have pledged to the Olympic oath, which reads:
“In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.”
The Judges too have their oath that they recite before every Games, and in 2010 at the Youth Olympics an oath was created for the coaches.
Maybe in Japan we need to see and Oath taken by those governing sport. Or better still every year those heading up the world bodies of every sport that competes at the Olympic Games should swear an oath to remind them of their duties as protectors of their sports now and into the future, as it appears many seem to forget the role they have to play.