Searching for a Saviour

It was a victory of good over evil. Or was it Champion over cheat? Usain Bolt’s victory over Justin Gatlin in the 100m final in Beijing was a victory that many said had to happen for the sake of Athletics.

Yet despite it happening, there are still many who feel that the sport has lost some of its sheen by the mere fact that Gatlin was able to take his place amongst the starters.

Gatlin has tested positive on two occasions for drugs banned by the IAAF. In 2001 he was banned from international competition for two years after testing positive for amphetamines. Gatlin appealed claiming that the positive test had been due to medication that he had been taking since his childhood, when he had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. The appeal resulted in an early reinstatement by the IAAF after he had served one year of the ban.

Then in 2006, he incurred a four-year ban from track and field for testing positive for a banned substance. This sanction saw his then-world-record time of 9.77 s in the 100 m erased.

Gatlin began competing again in August 2010, soon after his eligibility was reinstated. He came within a whisker of beating Bolt and becoming the World Champion, it was a race no one wanted him to win.

Double Olympic Gold Medallist Michael Johnson has been quick to state that Gatlin is not the problem, that it is far deeper than that. He told the BBC “Gatlin is not the problem. Half of the 100m finalists had tested positive. That is the problem. The previous leadership in athletics probably would have said that because Bolt had won, all is right with the world. That Bolt has saved our sport. That’s what we’re used to do, but that’s not true. Gatlin will go away one day but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to cheat.”

“We have to educate the public that this is not just about Gatlin and that this could happen again.
There is a public perception of ‘I don’t want to watch athletics anymore because I don’t believe what I see’. We have to deal with that.” He said, and he is right.

Athletics has been slow to react. Following Ben Johnson testing positive after his blistering run in the 100m final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, it took 12 years or the World Anti Doping Agency to be established. Ironically its driving force Dick Pound, a Canadian lawyer, was an IOC Vice President in Seoul and defended Johnson against the IOC’s medical commission!

At the time there were pleas for the sport to address the drug-cheat culture and adopt a policy whereby an athlete could be tested anytime anywhere. Yet it never happened. In fact even pleas for every athlete at this year’s World Championships to have a blood test were ignored.

On Friday, despite testing becoming more sophisticated, President of the IOC Thomas Bach stated that although he favoured lifetime bans, they were legally unenforceable.

To add insult to injury the new President of the IAAF, Lord Coe does not seem to see a conflict of interest now he has reached the pinnacle administratively in his sport. Coe edged out rival Sergei Bubka by 115 votes to 92. Yet on taking up the position stated that he would not be relinquishing his six-figure fee for being an ambassador for sportswear giant Nike.

The timing of this could not be worse. In March this year Nike took the hugely controversial, and many say cynical decision, to sponsor the twice-suspended Gatlin as they thought he was running faster than ever and might be able to conquer the Puma-backed Usain Bolt.

If that was not bad enough at the time of the IAAF Presidential election Nike is at the centre of an investigation being conducted by domestic and international doping agencies into the Alberto Salazar-run Oregon Project.

Then you can throw in the fact that Nike is implicated in the US Justice Department’s investigation into corruption at FIFA. The attention on Nike is focussed on the not-so-small matter of an alleged $40million bribe to secure the contract for the Brazilian football team’s kit deal.

Coe now finds himself very much on the back foot. He needed to show that he had no links to any organisations in the sport he is now to oversee, and from that position he could have comfortably waged war on the doping that has decimated Athletics. The horse may well have bolted and files been deleted when Brian Cookson took control of the troubled sport of Cycling, but within minutes of being elected to the UCI’s top position he had someone shut down their server so that they could investigate any files remaining. He showed an intent to face the problems head on.

Lord Coe is much loved and has always had a whiter than white image. He faces a very tough task to restore Athletics credibility, and he has one feels not helped his own task by not recognising the conflict of a tie with a company who is linked to athletes who have or are being accused of using performance enhancing drugs.

Bolt v Gatlin may have been billed as saviour versus sinner, but the problem is far deeper than two men going head to head on the track. Is Seb Coe the saviour?

Searching for a Saviour
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