Three weeks ago, twenty five years on from what many have called the biggest sports story of the 20th century, disgraced Olympic sprinter, Canadian Ben Johnson returned to the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, the scene of his steroid assisted 100m final victory. His journey to Seoul saw him visit other countries around the world to discuss how his reputation and career were destroyed as part of the ‘Choose the Right Campaign,’ which is calling for new strategies to be used in the battle against drugs in sport.
The timing was interesting as in Athletics seven athletes including one finalist at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, just prior to Johnson’s tour, had tested positive. If one widened the view on sport it was even worse news.
Just two days after Johnson’s visit to the Olympic Stadium another drug cheat was in the news, cyclist Lance Armstrong, with news that his request for a civil fraud lawsuit against him be dismissed being refused. Armstrong had argued that the US Government, including his former team sponsor the US Postal Service should have known he was doping all along despite his repeated claims that he was not. He also argued that the US Postal Service received benefits attached to his victories for its USD$40 million sponsorship from 1998-2004.
Not surprisingly the government’s response was strong, “The government did not get a winner, on the contrary, it got a fraud and all of the publicity and exposure that goes with having sponsored a fraud. That is decidedly not what the government had bargained for. The United States government should have an opportunity to recover damages for the money that it paid in reliance on Armstrong’s many lies.”
Armstrong who contends that his deceit should have been clear to everyone, and who has yet to return his Olympic medal from the 2000 Sydney Games, faces claims of up to USD$120 million should he lose his case. Ironically former team mate Floyd Landis, himself a disgraced drug cheat would receive a portion of this settlement under US whistleblower laws, after he ‘ratted’ on Armstrong.
Just two days after this story, it was announced that a shipment of unlicensed veterinary goods from a Dubai government private jet were seized at Stansted airport in the UK, in May. The Guardian newspaper reported that the seized goods did not include anabolic steroids, but claimed the goods were for use on endurance horses.
Horse racing enthusiast his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai along with his wife HH Princess Haya immediately launched a full scale investigation. The Princess is President of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Sheikh Mohammed was said to be extremely concerned as only months ago his Godolphin flat racing operation was rocked by a doping scandal, which proved to be the work of one individual. Disgraced former Godolphin trainer Mahmood al Zarooni was banned for eight years after 22 race horses tested positive to anabolic steroids.
Not drug related but the day before Johnson’s return to Seoul, in Singapore International Criminal Police Organisation secretary general Ronald Noble was hailing the local Police for arresting the mastermind and leader of the world’s most notorious football match fixing syndicate. The arrested Tan Seet Eng, known as Dan Tan, still denies any involvement.
He told local media that European Police agency Europol had smashed a network rigging hundreds of games including Champions League fixtures and world cup qualifiers. Europol claimed that a five country probe had identified 380 suspicious matches. Just prior to this six people were arrested in Australia charged over match fixing, while in Malaysia an investigation was launched into the results of Super League side Perak. All of this coming on the back of in June three lebanese referees in Singapore being convicted for accepting sexual services in return for fixing matches. Football in Asia was really under the microscope.
A day later snooker player England’s Stephen Lee was given a record 12 year ban after being found guilty on seven charges of match fixing. Lee was accused of being in contact with three different groups of people all of whom placed bets on outcome of frames within matches he was playing, or on the exact score of his matches. Lee claimed he would appeal and protested his innocence following the announcement of his ban.
When you look at the fact that all of these stories broke within a week, one has to ask if anything in sport is as it seems. Has betting become bigger than the sports themselves, and has winning become worth the risk of a lifetime ban? The answer would appear to be fairly clear, which means that these are indeed sad times for sports fans.