Of all the nations that one would consider to be the first to act with force on athletes who cheat, interestingly, it was India that was the first to strike. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) not only banned 14 athletes for doping and overage participation infractions, they also banned entire states; six of them in fact: Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It is interesting because on December 4th 2012, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) due to messy election issues. So will the IOC wield its might on nations who refuse to discipline dirty athletes?
An AFI release from December 23 reads, “In order to curb the overage and doping menace the Executive Committee of the Athletics Federation of India, which met on 22nd and the 23rd, have decided to enforce stringent measures on both erring athletes and their respective state-units.” India’s move is archetypal – an example that other national athletics federations can use to clean up their act including, but not limited to a few alarming examples like, Russia, Jamaica, Kenya and Turkey.
“Dr Paul Wright, the country’s most senior drug tester, told the BBC recently that Jamaica’s rash of failed tests might be the “tip of an iceberg”.
On Christmas Eve it was announced in the media that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) received bans that applied to eight of their athletes: Twenty-two-year-old Mikhail Reznichenko, Tejmur Aleskerov, Oleg Musokhranov, Dmitry Srybnyj, Evgeniy Kolomiets and Yuriy Selyutin. On November 15th, the Moscow lab expected to carry out testing for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was found to have flaws and may lose its ability to carry out tests. Russia has had a rough year for doping bans and should look to remove the issue through tough sanctioning, but so should other nations.
Jamaica, the world sprinting powerhouse and Kenya the world middle-distance and distance running juggernaut, until recently, have not been subject to out-of-competition testing. The IAAF and Wada have entered the countries and tested athletes randomly – turning up positive results in both situations. Subsequently, on November 23rd eleven members of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) threw themselves on the proverbial sword and resigned, as six of their athletes tested positive for banned substances, they include Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson as well as high jumper Demar Robinson and discus throwers Allison Randall and Traves Smikle. There are several more unnamed athletes, rumoured to be from Jamaica that apparently have had positive results. Dr Paul Wright, the country’s most senior drug tester, told the BBC recently that Jamaica’s rash of failed tests might be the “tip of an iceberg”.
Athletics Kenya (AK) chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat, announced on December 27th that two Kenyan marathon runners will be investigated as ARD – a German state television broadcaster – initially reported that the two Rael Kiyara and Jemima Sumgong, tested positive for banned substances, the positive tests were first reported on July 12th 2012. Kiplagat may be in denial regarding Kenyan doping, as in October of 2012; he demanded that all foreign coaches working in Kenya without authorisation are to leave the country in one week – the blame game; a weak attempt to throw the hounds off the scent. Shortly thereafter, legendary Italian coach Renato Canova, who is notorious for claiming that East Africans do not benefit from taking performance enhancing drugs, suddenly departed the country to coach in China.
In regards to Athletics Kenya’s inability to investigate its own athletes, on October 30th, Rodney Swigelaar, director of Wada’s African office, said, “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. 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.”
Kiplagat has other issues to attend to at this time, as over 50 former Kenyan athletes called for his retirement, due to the apparent lack of funds being made available to the athletes. Apparently the funds that were provided by the IAAF and sponsors did not trickle down. Some of the athletes are, 800 metre African record holder Sammy Kosgei, former national athletic coach Mike Kosgei, Beijing Olympic 800 metre champion and Wilfred Bungei as well as the 1984 Los Angeles 3,000m SC champion Julius Korir.
In April of 2013, thirty-one Turkish athletes tested positive for anabolic steroids. The biggest name from the group is 1500 metre Olympic gold medallist, Asli Ckir Alptkin, who having already been suspended for two years for doping infractions in 2004; this time faced a lifetime ban. On December 3rd, The Turkish Athletics Federation exonerated the athlete. “It has been decided that there is no grounds for national sporting sanctions against Asli Cakir Alptekin as she did not violate any anti-doping rules,” said a statement from the disciplinary commission on the Turkish federation`s website. The Turkish Athletics Federation may be making a mockery of the process.
Historically politics have played a role in the Olympic Games, for example, Flavius Theodosius Augustus (Theodosius the Great), who reigned as Roman Emperor for 48 years from 347 to 395 banned the Olympic Games in the year 393. Augustus felt that there was too much corruption, much of it in the form of bribery. He was the very last emperor to rule both sides of the Roman Empire; east and west. After his death, his sons took over the empire. The empire was split with each brother ruling a side and never again was the empire united and as far as they were concerned, never again would the Olympics happen.
During the 1800s, there were several attempts to resurrect the Olympic Games, in fact England hosted a national version in 1866 however, it was in 1896, thanks to France’s Pierre de Coubertin, the modern Olympics officially took place; they were hosted by Athens, Greece.
Coubertin felt that the modern Olympic Games would promote peace and understanding of other cultures; therefore lessening the likelihood of war. He also felt that the Olympic Games should not be used as a political tool. Coubertin founded the IOC to manage the games. Despite his intentions, the Olympic Games have long been used as a political tool, for example, the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936 were very much politicised by the Nazi regime who attempted to showcase supposed German superiority.
Former Olympic athlete and the only American to head the IOC, Avery Brundage, a staunch amateur and later a successful businessman, attempted to separate politics from the Olympics; he failed. There was a strong attempt to boycott the 1936 games, but Brundage fought hard for America to field a team; he succeeded however; it was with much controversy (in America) that a team was sent. His final games as president in 1972 saw the Munich massacre, which paid witness to the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes, but that was not the end of politics in sport.
Eight years later 65 countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games over Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin, having voiced his opinion against the LBGT community and making homosexuality illegal in Russia, will play host to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. US President Barack Obama, as well as other world leaders will be sending openly gay delegates to Russia. In a Hail Mary attempt to salvage some level of public relations and appearance of tolerance, on December 23rd, Putin released from jail the remaining two members of feminist punk rock group, Pussy Riot. In effect he attempted to take attention away from his anti-gay stance. Pussy Riot were originally jailed for political reasons.
However; using the Olympic Games as a political tool has, at least once, worked to perpetuate Coubertin’s vision. In 1963 the IOC told South Africa that it will not be invited to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, due to their legalised racism: Apartheid. At that time, South Africa was not prepared to allow interracial participation in sports in time for the deadline that was set and was subsequently banned. An attempt was made by the IOC to reinstate South Africa for the 1968 Olympics that took place in Mexico City. In response, several African nations threatened to boycott the Mexico Games, so the IOC acquiesced. The ban on SA was lifted prior to the 1992 Olympic Games that took place in Barcelona, Spain, when the international community became convinced that SA had completely removed apartheid. The removal of apartheid was due primarily to the negotiating efforts of the late Nelson Mandela, ironically a man who was jailed for 28 years for political reasons.
It appears that member nations may turn a blind eye to cheating, so to field the best possible team in the international sporting arena; but really in the powerful global political spectrum. To clean up sport from cheaters, the punishment should most assuredly outweigh the benefits, not only to athletes, but to member nations as well. De-politicising the Olympics may be a fruitless task however; banning cheats is within the power of the various governing bodies. Banning cheats is necessary to the continuation of international sport, as Timothy D. Noakes, Cardiologist, Athlete and Author wrote, “Performance-enhancing drugs pose a threat to the moral integrity and continued relevance of the sport.”
Professors James Skinner, Dr. Stephen Moster and Dr. Terry Engleberg’s publication, “Public Perception of Sports Doping”, hosted on the Griffith University website, concluded that 98% of over 2500 respondents feel that athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs should be punished and 65% of those agree that both a sanction and fine should be handed down. The conclusion reads, “The results of the current study clearly show that the use of banned drugs in sport is seen as a serious problem and the major stakeholders in sport, including athletes, coaches, sporting bodies and Government are expected to take action when athletes are found to have used banned drugs.
The Journal of Sports Sciences published a paper, “The Public Perception of Doping in Sport in Switzerland, 1995 – 2004”. The May 21st 2008 published document’s abstracts reads in part: “1995, 1998, 2001, and 2004, as well as from a 2005 – 2006 survey of top-level athletes in Switzerland. The results show a growing public awareness for doping issues and increasing support for a comprehensive anti-doping strategy in Switzerland. The vast majority of the Swiss population and top-level athletes are strongly against doping and support a strategy that combines strict prohibition and sanctioning with informational and educational efforts.”
Congratulations to India for being the first member nation to step forward to sanction their own states as well as cheating athletes, in an effort to eradicate the problem of cheating. National anti-doping agencies and national sport federations that turn a blind eye to cheating are in-effect endorsing cheating. Antithetically to India, the Turkish Athletics Federation re-instating their top athlete, having twice been found dirty, proves subtly, that the Olympic Games cannot escape politicisation. There is enough evidence to demonstrate that if there is no punishment or authority willing to exercise discipline enough to deter cheating, the sport of athletics and the Olympic Games will suffer upon the proverbial cross of public opinion.