Doping scandal of major proportions rocks the world’s sports community

Will most of Russian athletes be stripped of their Olympic and other international championships medals and banned from competition for some pretty considerable time?

What began as a scandal involving only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has now spread across the spectrum. That Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters now face charges of doping is one matter. That Russian sports bodies chiefs now stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that, is another matter.

And that IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too, makes it the mother of all sporting scandals.

Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah, a position that gives nepotism a new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charges that young Diack has personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova who paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov to make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

Help from up top

That, of course, is not all. ARD and l’Equippe, the French sports newspaper, have unearthed more documentation, and some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months ago, these same officials banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

What’s fair is fair, right?

How did the cover-up work? Could have hardly been more simple: the athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Not only that: as most of the tests require collection of urine samples, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

Doping: what else is new?

ARD, an abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a.k.a. Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany in English, has been known for its hard-hitting documentaries. Besides, it is precisely the Germans who ought to know whereof they speak when it comes to doping. A sports medicine institute in Leipzig in the former East Germany has been in the forefront of the doping science for a very long time. Some of its leading researchers have spent the last couple of decades or so working with athletes in China. Doing what?

Meanwhile, l’Equippe newspaper has been known as the publication of record when it comes to investigating doping in cycling, during the Tour de France, in particular.

Not surprisingly, a huge number of international sports officials have been expressing shock bordering on outright dismay, as if they hadn’t known for decades that this has been going on in one form or another. The chest-beating has been coming loud and clear, from former fencer and now head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach, all the way to the founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and IOC member, Canada’s own Dick Pound.

Pound comes the closest to saying “I told you so,” an expression he would have done better keeping to himself.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Coe, a former British runner, later the boss of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and now a leading candidate for the IAAF presidency, is on record as saying that there should be a widespread redistribution of medals. This promises a fine spectacle, with officials going back – well, Sebastian Coe hasn’t said yet how many years back – to double-check ancient doping test results. What will the IAAF officials do if the samples no longer exist? How will they prove the old samples, if and when found, haven’t been tampered with?

According to some British sources, the Olympic poohbahs are now considering banning Russian athletes from all competitions. As if the Russians were the only ones doing this. They were the only ones caught, for the time being, that’s all.

Why the crocodile tears?

Of course, it’s all hypocrisy.

Sprinters running at speeds reaching 40 kilometres an hour speeds, even if only for less than 10 seconds, aren’t normal human beings. Marathoners getting close to covering this distance in less than two hours aren’t normal human beings, either. We can consider one sport on the Olympic schedule after another to see that it’s been artificially created bodies who have performed these achievements.

Yes, yes, yes, some say it’s the diet, others say it’s the new training methods, still others say it’s all of it combined.

But the conclusion is simple and straightforward: what these athletes are (and have been) achieving is not normal.

But, of course, viewers all over the world are fans who want to see such out-of-this-world achievements. They are paying good portions of their hard-earned money (in whatever currency) to see the modern gladiators ply their trade. It has become an industry on its own: without viewer interest, there wouldn’t be so much coverage that pretends it’s news. Without so much coverage that pretends it’s news there wouldn’t be so many dollars invested in advertising. Speaking of which, when a sprinter shows that this or that running shoe is the best, it’s still within the boundaries of the understandable. But when, for example, a weight-lifter promotes products of female hygiene, it becomes a comedy.

And yet, the solution is simple. If you asked the athletes whether they would digest something that would guarantee them Olympic gold and, at the same time, premature death within five years of victory, an overwhelming majority would go for the doping.

It’s perfectly irrelevant if they would agree in the wild hope that, within those five years, a cure would be developed for whatever they had brought upon themselves, or because their imagination doesn’t stretch that far, or that they are of the view that, at least, they had taken care of their families.

What matters is: they would do it.

So, why not let them?

Why not realize that even the original Olympiads in ancient Greece were filled with not only outright doping, but blatant cheating, too? (If you let me win this race, my sponsor will guarantee you a job at so many drachmas a year, plus room and board.)

Why not admit that the anti-doping crowd has been playing catch-up all along, never really getting even close to the level of those who’d been using performance-enhancing drugs?

Just drop the pretence, leave (taxpayer-supported) Olympic organizations and sundry sports bodies out of it, pass the deal over to pharmaceutical companies, and change the slogan. Get rid of the ancient Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). It’s Latin, anyway, and how many people speak (or, at least, just understand) Lingua Latina these days? Replace it with “My drugs are better than yours, nyanyanyanahnah,” and be done with it.

Of course, we won’t have titillating stories of athletes who wouldn’t pass the normal sobriety tests to enjoy any longer.

Will it be such a huge loss?


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