Doping suspicion doing more damage than doping itself
Like a great many Australians, I have achieved nothing in the sporting sense. As a cricketer, I was once out caught and hit wicket off the same delivery.
And as a tennis player, I define success solely in terms of per cent of serves in. 20% is a screamer of a day.
I lack talent, attention span, and work ethic. I am fine with this. But if I wasn’t so average, if I was indeed a brilliant sportsman at the top of my field, if I had achieved this on the back of years of thankless toil, I would expect that my efforts would be recognised as the reason for my success.
But if you are an elite athlete in 2012 you will be questioned, and if your performance is sufficiently stunning, it will be awarded an unofficial asterisk by the armchair lynch mob. I refer of course to performance enhancing drugs.
It must be so galling for clean athletes to be attacked in this way. Bradley Wiggins made headlines during the Tour de France after reacting angrily to a question from a journalist which suggested his success may not be all his doing. It was nice to see a prominent sportsman give the two bit dunce the treatment he deserved. But even though he dispatched the question with such profane dexterity, it must still hurt. But what can he do?
Presumably he’s given an Olympic swimming pools worth of piss to the relevant authorities, all of which was clean. He’s not been witnessed doing drugs, he didn’t win by an obscene margin, yet the questions around the legitimacy of his victory persist, and with no consequences for those who suggest the cheating.
If you had scaled Everest, but no one would ever know, how would you feel? I reckon the absence of acknowledgment would eventually render the feat meaningless. This is because such things only have worth because of the worth assigned to them by society. It’s their merit relative to others which makes them special.
It’s the respect and reverence the Tour de France is held in that makes winning it such an achievement. By tainting that, the athlete is immediately robbed of the societal admiration which goes with such an accomplishment. Sure he has the knowledge that deep down that he won fair and square, but that would be of little comfort if he is widely regarded as a cheat because of a baseless smear campaign. It is this thoughtless poisoning of such an achievement that really irks me. The people who chuck that crap out there don’t consider the person, they just want to say I told you so.
We also seem intent on robbing ourselves of the ability to freely rejoice in the brilliance of the very best. Take the example of Ye Shiwen, the young Chinese swimmer. She swam the final leg of her event faster than the corresponding leg of the men’s event. The circumstances of each race were different, but that was hardly mentioned.
In response to the claims advanced by the western media that this feat couldn’t have been legitimate, a prominent Chinese official pointed out that they had not attempted to discredit Michael Phelps’ eight Gold in Beijing.
Rather than focus on the fact that a record was broken and an amazing young swimmer had emerged, the two sides seemed more interested in making it clear that they did not consider their opponents’ achievements genuine.
The situation clearly illustrated that often the drug smear is employed purely to wound.
Now you could argue that given the laughable procession of steroid apes who have desecrated the sport of cycling/sprinting/swimming over many years, such suspicion is justified.
But the reality is that articulating this suspicion publicly does nothing to increase drug detection, does little to deter athletes from transgressing and poisons the moment for athletes and for those fans more able to take the achievement on face value.
Usain Bolt recently provided a good example. Moments after his 200m win at the London Olympics, Carl Lewis’ name was mentioned. Lewis had previously questioned the rigour of the Jamaican drug testing regime and said of Bolt’s performance, “we’ll just wait and see”.
Bolt felt compelled to make his feelings known in relation to Lewis, and it soured what should have been a euphoric moment for him. If Carl Lewis hadn’t have made the suggestion with no evidence, then the issue could have been avoided. Usain can’t get that moment back.
But before you deafen me with accusations of naïve optimism, let me point out that this piece is not intended to defend drug cheats. Throw the book at them, they deserve it. But when the cheats are caught and the penalty is being decided how about we double it in lieu of the albatross that their actions have permanently welded to the necks of their clean counterparts.