If professional cycling was the ‘tip of the iceberg’, Athletics surely is the next to fall off the edge in the midst of fresh doping allegations.
ATHLETICS is suffering its most tumultuous period for decades amidst increasing allegations of doping practices and corruption. These are not just the opinions of sports journalists and casual fans, but those of erstwhile International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) president Lamine Diak.
Diak is but one of a few IAAF officials to vacate their position at the end of their tenure. Diak’s son has already resigned along with treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev – the latter having been at the centre of the recent doping controversy involving Russian athletes, over whom Balackhnichev presides.
The chaos that is currently present within the IAAF has stemmed from the recent documentary from German television station Das Erste (ARD), which, through innumerable interviews with Russian athletes, that the vast majority of Russians compete under the influence of performance enhancing drugs.
Balackhnichev’s decision to step aside as treasurer has only aided claims that top officials were in on the act of covering up positive tests and suspicious blood values, most notably with 2010 London Marathon and three-time Chicago Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova who was paid £350,000 to compete at London 2012 despite anomalies in her biological passport – which would necessitate a ban – being known to both the federation and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada).
The ARD documentary suggests that Balakhnichev was the one to pay this sum of money.
And of course, elite sport – in much the same way as PEDs – is accompanied with obscene amounts of money. There seems to be a trade off between comepeting and assistance, so it is no wonder that, according to the ARD documentary, Russian athletes sacrificed 5% of their salary – presumably this slice going to their doctors.
And the most worrying part is that it is not exclusive to Russia either. The situations in Kenya and Jamaica have been well documented over the last few years, with each country’s bodies proving equally inadequate in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Kenyan long-distance runner Mathew Kisorio tested positive for a banned substance in June 2012 claimed that doctors depend on success craving athletes to generate quick profits.
“When the prize money come in, the doctors want a piece of your success,” said Kisorio.
“There are some doctors who settle down in popular athlete areas where you can find the training camps. These men just open a pharmacy and claim they are just selling legal medication. Then they approach the athletes. It’s the same all over the country,” Kisorio said.
Speaking about Kenya’s apparently flippant cooperation with WADA, director general David Howman demanded action in the wake of a spate of doping revelations in the country.
“We are very frustrated. It’s more than a year now since we went there and even longer since the rumours started to spread.
“The procrastination has been frustrating. Officially I cannot say where they are at with their investigation – Howman
“We have been extremely patient. Wherever these things happen, it’s our role to go in there and ask what is wrong and why people are not complying with the code.”
You can imagine the response from Athletics Kenya though.
Speaking to the BBC in 2013 head coach Isaiah Kiplagat said: “I can assure everyone that the government commission will start its work soon. We are hoping to start work before the Wada conference.”
“I don’t think there is really a problem with drugs in Kenya. All our top athletes were tested before London and then again before the World Championships in Moscow this year.
“Compared to other countries we do not have a serious problem,” he said.
Whether Kiplagat is telling the truth or not, simply saying that their athletes passed pre and post event testing is not good enough. Highlighting the cases in Cycling of yester-year, it is easy enough to ensure a taken substance does not show up in controls and yet still reap the benefits. I’m sorry, that answer just does not wash.
Additionally, his flat denial that Kenya does not have a problem with drugs, despite the government commission having not even started its work raises questions. The Omertà is damaging either way.
And then to the perennial doper himself. Stand up Mr. Justin Gatlin. Twice banned for doping offences – his second resulted in a life-time ban, re-negotiated to four years – he achieved an unbelievable feat of running the fastest 100m and 200m times in successive days. The fastest any athlete in their thirties has run made even more amazing after four years off, unable to train. And on a damp track.
2011 400m hurdles world champion Dai Greene doesn’t buy the American’s performance for a second.
“Those are incredible performances. Not many people have run that fast separately, ever. To do it on a damp Friday night? I couldn’t believe those times,” said Greene.
“It shows one of two things: either he is still taking performance-enhancing drugs to get the best out of him at his age, or the ones he did take are doing a fantastic job. Because there is no way he can still be running that well at this late point in his career.”
“You only have to look at his performances. I don’t believe in them,” Greene said.
Adding his voice to the debate, former Olympic gold medalist for Great Britain Darren Campbell says he wants his children to avoid athletics completely until the sport is cleaned once and for all.
“Every time you witness a performance, there’s a question that pop up in your mind. And that’s when the sport has problems. because they are questioning whether what they are seeing is real”, Campbell told the BBC.
“I wouldn’t encourage my kids to do athletics.”- Campbell
“Every time there is an allegation of systematic doping, it is very difficult to keep believing in the sport,” Campbell said.
“It’s a war we can’t lose and it is a war we aren’t losing.”
Campbell isn’t the only one becoming disillusioned with the sport that has served the majority of his adult life. Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford does not see the sport improving any time soon.
“I agree with Darren that it’s the situation the sport is in. I’ll try to guide Milo [his son] in different paths,” he said.
“You might as well throw the sport to the dogs.”
“If the sport gets sorted, I’d be more than happy, but as things stand I wouldn’t expect to see him on the long jump run-up any time soon,” Rutherford said.
But while voices have been almost unilaterally united in their outrage, one in particular has hit out at Diak’s statement that athletics faces “a crisis”. Despite the justified skepticism of the IAAF and Diak, you cannot disagree with a simple fact.
“It’s very hard to promote our sport when he doesn’t know what the hell is going on,” Ohuruogu said.
“Who else’s job is it?”
“I think that kind of sentiment is uncalled for. Even if he felt that way personally he should have kept that private.” – Ohuruogu
It may have been a misjudged remark. Certainly the IAAF and its top officials deserve a slap across the face for their lack of action over a pandemic that has cursed the sport for decades. But one cannot disagree with Diak – whatever you may think of him as a president and person – when he admits that a crisis in athletics does in fact exists prominently/is deep rooted.
Ohuruogu’s rhetoric – whilst still possibly noble – is reminiscent of Omertà [an un-written code of silence and a common trait in the sporting world – especially regarding doping]. The tactics more or less follow the same path: silence the critics, disregard them and vilify them in public. It is all part of the subversion to make their lives easier and more importantly, carry on as normal.
Yes we should criticise the leadership and yes we should denounce inadequacies in the way the sport is run – and why doping is trivialised – but it has to be constructive.
So how do we do it?
Campbell and fellow British runner Jenny Meadows – who was upgraded to European gold in 2011 when Russia’s Yevgeniya Zinurova was banned for doping – say the doping battle has to be fought independently, regardless of the immediate consequences.
“The latest Wada list shows track and field is in the lead of testing. Some sports are doing a 10th of what we do,” Campbell said
“The one thing I am convinced about is that we need to have internationally an independent system that removes the pressure and the cost from individual federations.”
Meadows said: “It might be the case that we have to prove how many people are doping, destroy the image of the sport and then rebuild it again and look for positive role models who can succeed and win medals on the international stage who are clean athletes.
However the problem is going to be solved, it will no doubt be a bumpy, everlasting fight till the death.