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Opinion: Doping in Sport - Integrity on the Brink?


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It’s been a sobering month for integrity in sport.

UK cycling hero Chris Froome is being investigated for using banned substances, with Peru footballing star Paulo Guerrero receiving a ban for representing his nation next summer in Russia in the 2018 Football World Cup following use of illegal substances.

On the topic of Russia, their athletes are still unsure whether they will be allowed to compete under a neutral banner in the South Korean Winter Olympics, having seen their federation banned from the competition for previous offensives.

It is a sad time for many sports. There is absolutely no place for doping in any competition, it is no different from cheating and athletes claiming they don’t know what is and isn’t banned to me just seems lazy. If in doubt, they can check. Otherwise, the punishment most certainly must fit the crime; removing titles, banning competitors and suspending federations.

The Russia doping scandal appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. Whilst I think it is wholly unrealistic to completely prevent doping from ever happening, a lot more regulation is needed. The Russian case is systematic collusion between a governing body of sport and athletes in order to deliberately deceive and cheat. If it hadn’t been discovered, who knows what other events could have been tarnished?

Although they haven’t been directly involved thus far, the best decision that the various International Governing sports committees could have done as far as doping is concerned is pressure FIFA to relocate the 2018 World Cup. Whilst FIFA would probably argue this isn’t viable in the short term, there is no shortage of clean European nations which have the resources to host the most prestigious tournament in history.

Banning the Russian Athletic Federation from events is fair, but one can only feel it is a short-term measure that will be quickly forgotten. Losing the World Cup would have been a historical, catastrophic change for Russia and would certainly make any other nation think twice.

There are two major questions that anyone who considers doping should ask themselves. Firstly, can you really call yourself a sportsperson? It would be no different to tripping up, or pulling back an opponent in a running race, or giving yourself a 20m head start in a sprint.

All you need to do is look at the backlash Justin Gatlin received for winning the 100m Final in the Athletics Championship in London earlier this year. He might have won Gold, but his medal was tarnished with jeers and a totally justified apathy from the crowd. 

The other major issue that doping addresses are the losers. Those who come second to a cheat, denied a gold. Or worse, fourth place, cheated out of a podium finish and their name up in lights.

Various athletes from all nations have been robbed of this, and although it is good to see retrospective adjustments to award the correct medals and honours, they must be pyrrhic victories. However grand or elaborate the new presentation ceremony is, it will never recreate that moment of competition. And of course, how do you compensate for all the pain, tears and regrets of never quite being good enough on the day- only to find out you were cheated all along?

Christine Ohuruogu, Kelly Sotherton, Marilyn Okoro and Nicola Sanders, Andrew Steele, Robert Tobin, Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney. Eight names who were denied their moment of glory due to doping.

As already expressed, there is no definitive way to stop it. If people want to cheat, through substance abuse or performance enhancing drugs, they will do so. But the IOC and other federations must stop treating it like the elephant in the room.

Harsh punishments like national embarrassment and shunning from their sports might seem draconian, but until they are brought into effect on a more regular basis, sport, in integrity and on a personal level will continue to suffer the most. 

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons. Flickr Commons, Josh Hallett

Image above shows American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France medals in 2013 after admitting to doping. 

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