Rus­sians pay the price

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - NEWS - SaltWire Net­work

For years, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment se­lected chil­dren as po­ten­tial ath­letes by body type, as fu­ture com­peti­tors.

East Ger­many went fur­ther, us­ing an­abolic steroids to build win­ning teams of weightlift­ers and track and field ath­letes. In­di­vid­ual ath­letes, of­ten train­ing away from na­tional teams, got caught up, too.

But the world has gone far, far be­yond that. It’s a given that top-ranked ath­letes now have a vir­tual bat­tery of spe­cial­ists and train­ers to en­sure that they are in peak shape to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally; nu­tri­tion­ists, video anal­y­sis and any­thing else that can give an athlete even the slight­est edge is used to its fullest ex­tent.

For some coun­tries, cheat­ing has be­come fully in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized.

For coun­tries like Rus­sia, cheat­ing has be­come so cen­tral to ath­let­ics that abuse worked its way right into the state-run lab­o­ra­to­ries that were sup­posed to catch cheaters.

Why try to avoid or “game” test­ing when you can sim­ply run the lab­o­ra­tory and come up with re­sults show­ing ev­ery­one’s clean, when clearly they are not?

Mon­day, Rus­sia was banned for four years from in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing the Tokyo Sum­mer Olympics, by the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency af­ter WADA said the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment tam­pered with a data­base to hide wide­spread sports dop­ing.

WADA ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Linda Hel­le­land said, “This is the big­gest sports scan­dal the world has ever seen. I would ex­pect now a full ad­mis­sion from the Rus­sians and for them to apol­o­gize for all the pain all the ath­letes and sports fans have ex­pe­ri­enced.” (Rus­sia has 21 days to ap­peal the de­ci­sion, and has al­ready in­di­cated that it will ap­peal.)

Good luck with the wait for any kind of apol­ogy. There’s dop­ing in in­ter­na­tional sport, in pro­fes­sional sport and just about ev­ery as­pect of sport, some­times as far down as the high school level.

It’s done be­cause it of­ten pays; drug cheats have got­ten the ac­co­lades and glory that come from win­ning the Tour de France bi­cy­cling race, from win­ning the Su­per Bowl or the World Se­ries or Ma­jor League Base­ball’s home run cham­pi­onship. In re­sponse, many sports even­tu­ally cracked down hard with anti-dop­ing test­ing and penal­ties.

Ath­letes who are sup­posed to be seek­ing the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of health, fit­ness and skill are some­times in­stead us­ing po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing drugs to gain the out­sized re­wards that come from suc­cess in many sport­ing en­deav­ours. Oth­ers are do­ing it just to keep up, or even just to stay in the game.

Maybe we shouldn’t be look­ing at ath­letes to solve this prob­lem at all. It is, ba­si­cally, a sup­ply and de­mand equa­tion. Some ath­letes take the risk be­cause, on some level, the risk is worth the po­ten­tial re­ward.

Per­haps it’s time we changed the way we looked at sport. Maybe the pedestal we put win­ning ath­letes on is just too high, when com­pared to the ac­tual role they play in a func­tion­ing so­ci­ety.

Di­min­ish­ing the re­ward would go a long way to­wards mak­ing the risk un­rea­son­able.

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