Russians pay the price
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.