November 17, 2015
After the doping scandals, has international sport got any credibility left?
It is difficult to see how international sport has any credibility any longer, given the litany of doping scandals that continue to hit the headlines (Report, 12 November). The latest Russian scandal is one in a long list of incidents where results and medals obtained seem not to have been legitimate. The World Anti-Doping Agency has made grim discoveries, uncovering bribes, sample-tampering and extensive doping of athletes, all organised at the highest level, including international sporting bodies. Wada does not confine its findings to Russia. Because there is so much money in sport these days, athletes will do anything to win. It cannot be ruled out either that certain governments vying for international recognition will bend the rules to get their name in lights. The stakes are high and failure is not an option, with sponsors willing to spend millions to get their products and services advertised by top sportspeople. It seems that doping is now endemic in the world of sport and becoming extremely pervasive to include more and more sports. There may be no point in watching endurance sports any longer, given that in too many cases the results obtained are nothing but a sham. Maurice Fitzgerald Shanbally, County Cork, Ireland • British athletes such as Jenny Meadows have every right to feel furious about having been denied medals if the alleged cheating by Russian athletes is proven, but that should not deflect us from facing the doping crisis on our doorstep. At present, 28 of the 47 British sportspeople banned for drug offences are from rugby union and rugby league – despite the fact that testing in those sports is less extensive than in others. One of those currently banned, Daniel Spencer-Tonks, recently said doping was “hugely widespread at all levels in rugby” and that young players felt “pressure to be bigger, faster and stronger”. Access to steroids is easy. Up-and-coming teenagers in rugby go to the same gyms as their peers who are using steroids for image enhancement. Estimates of steroid use vary, but the latest needle exchange data for Wales tells a story – of the 4,338 under-25s whose details were recorded, 3,542 (82%) reported primarily using steroids. The problem is chronic, and practically nothing is being done about it. We are not heeding our whistleblowers and, with rugby sevens making its debut as an Olympic sport in Rio, the call to ban Russia looks very much like double standards. Steve Howell Newport, Gwent • The basic problem the IAAF and Wada are confronting is one of collusion: it seems that at least one testing centre has been guilty of substantial bias towards athletes of the same country. The solution to this is fairly simple. All testing for banned substances should be carried out by laboratories in a country not subject to influence by the host country of a competition, or the country an athlete represents. This would make the logistics more difficult, but not impossible. The International Cricket Council used to be plagued by allegations of biased umpiring, but the introduction of neutral umpires in the 1990s has dealt with the problem, and that forms a useful precedent for this situation. The biggest advantage of neutral testing is that it’s very hard to find grounds to object to it that don’t look like a desire to influence the results in one’s own favour. John Dallman Cambridge • Perhaps athletics should follow the lead of a clean sport such as Formula One. F1 is designed so that the athlete and the thing that decides how well they perform are seen as individual aspects of performance. There is no pretence of a level playing field: the best athlete with the best car wins, and manufacturers vie for the top spot as well as drivers. If this model were applied to athletics, the best athlete with the best performance-enhancer would win. You could also have separate prizes for most effective or innovative doping. Given the recent report, does this possibility seem so absurd? Except for the doping prize of course – that would be silly. Ian Mitchell Preston, Lancashire • Perhaps the time has come to acknowledge frankly that much organised sport is bad for our world and is a luxury we can no longer afford. The Olympic ideals, and the many clubs nobly set up by ordinary people in the 19th century, have fallen victim to global capitalism, so that the super-rich get super-richer, aided by corruption, and the poor get poorer, as ever in thrall to bread and circuses. The environmental fallout from the vanity projects is colossal, and their construction traps many in poverty and destroys homes and communities: their “legacy”, at home and around the world, is rarely fulfilled. Healthy competition gives way to the worst kinds of tribalism and nationalism, and all that goes with them. Spectator travel clogs our roads and airways. The use of performance-enhancing drugs can probably no longer be effectively controlled: surely they will soon have free rein too. You may guess that I am not a big sports fan – a dangerous admission for a clergyman, and some readers will no doubt level similar charges against organised religion. But we must begin to face the wide-ranging ethical impact of our addiction. So far we have done this only in relation to “sports” involving animals (eg, hunting and bullfighting). Michael Ainsworth Bolton • If allegations of drug taking by Russian athletes are proved correct (Athletics in crisis over Russia claims, 10 November) will they be stripped of their 2012 Olympic medals, thus ensuring Yorkshire finishes 11th in the medal table instead of a paltry 12th? Duncan Lister Dewsbury, West Yorkshire • For the past seven years Sebastian Coe has been the vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). He claims that he was unaware of the extent of doping among athletes and of the allegations surrounding the former president of the IAAF (Sebastian Coe to face MPs over doping scandal and links with Nike, 13 November). If he didn’t know, why not? Perhaps Coe needs to consider his position and independent officials should be appointed to clean up the sport. Richard Knights Liverpool • Though I sympathise with Jo Pavey (‘You do start to wonder how many medals you have missed out on,’ Sport, 12 November), the fact remains that she and most other English athletes these days are guilty of practising before they compete. On the continent, I believe they call this “training”. You never heard ofAlf Tupper preparing for an event other than by consuming a large plate of fish and chips. If we can’t beat Johnny Foreigner without resorting to underhand methods like those used by modern athletes such as Mrs Pavey, I think we should pack up our bags and go home. Tony Bayliss Sandon, Staffordshire http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/13/doping-scandals-international-sport-any-credibility-left