When someone fragrantly breaks the rules for their own personal gain and glory it is hard to forgive the trust that they have betrayed, certainly in the world of sport.
It will take sports fans a long time to forgive and forget Lance Armstrong’s continual denials that he had been involved in any practices that enhanced his performances, only to be caught out.
Prior to Armstrong’s fall from grace the most high profile drug cheat in sport would have to be Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who tested positive for steroids after taking gold in the blue riband event, the 100m sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Johnson served a two year suspension, and was then banned for life following a second positive test. Many who raced against Johnson in that 100m final have also since tested positive for performance enhancing substances, yet he was the first and most high profile.
He is now being used to promote an anti-doping campaign, Pure Sport, which was launched this week by a sportswear company.
“Winning a gold medal and being the best in the world it cost me my reputation in life. I’m here to try and change that. I’m trying to clear the air and clear my part of life, trying to help future generations and future athletes of my calibre, who have tested positive, been in the same boat as me, trying to help them and say ‘You’re not alone.'” Johnson said in London. “If I can help change the mind of athletes in generations to come that’s what we are here for.”
Johnson will be taking his message to Seoul the scene of his famous fall from grace on September 24 the 25th anniversary of that day, the day his reputation in life was forever shattered.
The sponsors of this campaign are hoping that Johnson can encourage sports fans to sign a petition demanding action to “improve the waning credibility of world sport,” and demanding a truth and reconciliation process across sport.
The sad thing is as long as athletes today earn massive amounts of money and receive all the trappings of fame that comes with success there will always be some who will do what it takes to try and get that edge over their opponents. What is even worse is that now in Western society we are witnessing more and more coaches, and support staff around these athletes encouraging them to take these short cuts, as the spin offs to that success impacts positively on these people as well.
The penalties for cheating must be stronger. Life bans for all involved are the only way to go. Johnson is testament to how cheating has scarred his life and almost destroyed it. If ever there was an example of how using performance enhancing drugs doesn’t pay it is him. Twenty five years on and virtually ever sports fan knows his name and his crime, just as they will with Lance Armstrong. Ignominy follows glory for cheats, that grasp at fame by illegal means is not worth the price you pay in the long term.
Johnson will never be able to win back his once adorning fans, but he is on the path to winning back some respect, and that has to be worth the hard work. Sure he is getting paid to do so, but it takes a big man to so publicly admit his errors; we hope that he eventually finds the forgiveness he seeks and inner peace for what he did.