So Athletics is the latest sport to have their integrity questioned. Following the summer where Paula Radcliffe released a categorical denial about cheating after she was ‘effectively implicated’ by a parliamentary select committee over drug use, the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) released a report effectively accusing Russia of state sponsored cheating (or using the in word Sporting Advantage). They are accused of doing what the old Eastern Block countries were infamous for before the Berlin Wall fell. What is even more worrying is that the governing body (IAAF) have been implicated, being accused of being lax in their follow up of positive tests, especially after the Moscow drug centre had been warned about their protocols. 1400 B samples had been destroyed since a warning! The Russian athletes are alleged to have paid 5% of their earnings for illegal substances and the cover up of drugs tests.
This is not the first time, this has happened to Russian athletes. Lynsey Sharp had her European Championship 2012 Silver medal upgraded to Gold after Yelena Arzhakova was banned for two years for doping offences. Russia have been in the top 3 for most of the major Athletics events in the last 20 years. Though interestingly they finished 9th with only 2 gold and 4 overall medals in Beijing this year.
Just as athletics had got over the World Championship ‘Good v Bad’ 100m race between Usain Bolt and two time drug offender Justin Gatlin. I thought that the darkest years for athletics had been in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with Ben Johnson’s Olympic 100m race, commonly named the dirtiest race in history, followed by the early death of Florence Griffiths-Joyner with a three times enlarged heart. It also looks like this may just be the tip of the iceberg as WADA has withheld many parts of the report.
With British athletes having had their funding announced, and many athletes losing funding in the podium and other schemes, it also has an effect on them. If the athletes they are competing against are cheating, the opportunity to podium is diminished and subsequently effects their funding and ability to train and maximise their potential. Eilish Mccolgan, who broke her ankle in March and has not competed this year, lost her funding on Monday, tweeted “No wonder athletes cheat.. One injury from being a clean, hard-working athlete and support is cut” and as she said it is only 277 days until Rio.
While the extent of drug use at the top end of Athletics is always big news, it also has a major impact at the lower end. In 2013, the 31 Turkish athletes were banned for two years. This included most of the 4 x 400m squad. This was a team that had qualified for the London 2012, and had prevented a group of clean athletes competing at an Olympic Games. Michelle Carey, who competed at London 2012 for Ireland and at previous major athletics events, told me that funding to qualify for these major events is key for the development of Athletics in the lesser nations. If they are unable to compete on a level playing field, many people will be lost to the sport.
Hopefully, like cycling before them, with the Lance Armstrong and Cofidis scandal, this may be the start of the end of the issue in Athletics. It will be a long hard road, but in Lord Coe, they have an athlete/politician/administrator, while having been around previously when these issues were taking place, has the integrity and respect of the wider sporting world, to make the correct decisions and moves. We wait in hope.