Why is it that in today’s world those running not just sport are prepared to put forward ill-conceived ideas and genuinely believe that people are going to accept their preposterous suggestions?
Maybe because some people are simply happy to go with the flow and are of the opinion that those in charge must know what they are doing and have carried out the appropriate due diligence.
The International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) announcement that it plans to wipe all world records set before 2005 has to be one of the dumbest moves by a sporting body in a long time.
There is no doubt that the Athletics world has struggled for credibility in the past ten to fifteen years as the drug cheats have managed to stay two or three steps ahead of those trying to catch them, but is this going to make up for that failing?
By scrapping all of the records set before 2005 the IAAF are tarnishing the reputations of athletes who to all intents and purposes were clean. Athletes who never tested positive to any drug test during their entire careers by having their world records scrapped are now going to be bracketed with those who later in their careers were caught cheating.
Not surprisingly British long distance runner Paula Radcliffe was quick to issue a statement along these lines saying that the move by the IAAF could “damage her reputation and dignity,” she also labelled the move as “cowardly.” A word that clearly hit a raw nerve with Chief Executive of the IAAF Oliver Gers.
He responded by saying “I am not suer what’s cowardly about this, it’s a sad reality of our sport that we are doubting some records. What it allows us is to reset the bar. It’s a very difficult decision. I think cowardly is a very strong word for our proposal.”
Needless to say the move has had a mixed response from current athletes and has been strongly opposed by those who hold or whose relatives hold World Records, including Florence Griffiths-Joyner’s husband Al Joyner. Flo-Jo’s record in the 100m and 200m have stood since 1988. She passed away in her sleep in 1998 aged 38, the cause of death after a coroner’s report was during a severe epileptic seizure; she had suffered seizures previously. There were no traces of performance-enhancing drugs in her system when she died, neither did she test positive during her career. At the time of her death the head of the International Olympic Committee was quoted as saying, “We performed all possible and imaginable analyses on her. We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion.”
Flo-Jo as Griffiths-Joyner was always known has always had a cloud of suspicion over her World Records and many look at the fact that she announced her retirement after the Seoul Olympics aged 28 and the fact that the announcement came just one week after it was announced that random out-of-competition drug testing would be instituted during the 1989 Athletics season. Yet there is no conclusive proof that she cheated.
This policy if it is enforced by the IAAF raises so many other questions if it goes ahead. Many of literatures greatest works were penned when the authors were influenced by drugs, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke after taking Laudanum to write his famous poem Kubla Khan. Many great books have been written while under the influence of drugs such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and many of the less highbrow but commercially successful Steven King books. Will the literary world now ban such works from being sold in bookshops, and being read at school and university?
Then of course there is the music industry, how many songs and albums have been labelled masterpieces and iconic, yet were written and in some cases recorded while the musicians were high on drugs? Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is one that springs to mind, then there is the late David Bowie’s Station to Station; said by many to be his best album. Will the music industry shy away from these artists and their work? Will they have their awards stripped from the Music record books?
Will other sports pick up on this lead and then go back through the archives and review games in which replays which at the time were not available to the referees and umpires how that a foot went into touch, a shot was outside the circle and a match winning penalty proved to be a dive? Imagine FIFA overturning Argentina’s 1986 World Cup win as they concede that Maradona did indeed punch the ball into the net against England. Sport is about what happens at the time. Sometimes things go your way sometimes they don’t.
It would be surprising one other sports went delving into the archives, and changed their histories. The Arts will never take such action, as the arts tend to accept that its genii have sometimes needed performance enhancing stimulation. Despite the drugs taken frequently being illegal, they were and are not illegal when it comes to writing books, just as some of the drugs taken by athletes of yesteryear, whose names are in the record books may not have been on the banned substance list when they took them.
This of course does not make it right. Many will argue that they did not do anything wrong, as they did not take a banned substance, and it is hard to argue against; yet many will know that they took something that gave them an advantage and they must live with that. It proved too much to live with for Marion Jones.
Many have argued that Cortisone is a performance enhancing drug. It is not on the banned substance list and is used by many athletes across many sports to enable them to get through the pain and compete. Yet the fact that the Cortisone enables the athlete to compete without pain proves it has to be performance enhancing.
Hyperbaric Oxygen has become more prevalent in sport today. It is not illegal. Yet Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy provides a highly effective way to increase the volume of oxygen in the blood and this oxygen has many beneficial effects on the body. It allows the body to get the oxygen which will help flush out the lactic acid that causes muscle fatigue. The higher oxygen levels created help athletes to increase their performances and enables them to recover quicker. This increased oxygen being delivered to the brain, according to sports scientists improves brain functionality, and enables athletes to make split-second decisions that could be a difference in the outcome of a game. Yet Hyperbaric Oxygen is allowed in many sports, including Athletics.
Quadruple Olympic Gold Medallist for Great Britain Mo Farah, has shown the world that he slept in an oxygen-reducing tent as part of his altitude conditioning. Again there is nothing illegal about what he has done. Yet the equipment is not cheap to use and are all athletes competing given access to such tools to help their performance? This is the real issue.
If Athletics is going to be an even playing field then Hyperbaric Oxygen and other such aids need to be available to all or banned. For credibility to return to the sport it has to be an even playing field and if the powers that be catch a drug cheat, they have to be banned for life. There can be no return in two years, it has to be for life.
Wiping the slate clean will do more harm to the sport. It will damage the reputation of world record holders who were clean and will no doubt see a number of legal challenges which will simply bring the sport more unwanted bad publicity.
The truth is history is written every day. Some days that history is something of which to be proud when looked back upon, sometimes history is tinged with shame. Wiping it away and pretending it never happened is not healthy. Just as a coach will tell you that he will learn a great deal more about his team following a defeat, so too should athletics following the scandals of recent years. They need to accept that they have had more black days than they would have wanted, and their goal should be to ensure that these become less. Those running Athletics need to concentrate on finding ways to elevate the sport to where it was, and restore consumer faith in performances. The only way they will do this is by understanding their history and the mistakes that have been made.
As Martin Luther King said, “We are not makers of History, we are made by History.”