The politics of doping — Clean-up or vendetta?

BY Alexander Scott

Sunday, July 17, 2016

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Doping, or using drugs to enhance one’s performance, is as old as the Olympics itself, with records showing us ‘primitive’ attempts at doping during the original Olympics in ancient Greece. Modern doping has always been around, too, with one English team pre-WWII going so far as to provide its players with amphetamines before two crunch ties (see the FlashBak article titled, ‘The history of football doping’), they stopped after the players strongly complained about the side effects.

Things only got worse as the Cold War heated up and the sporting arena was seen as a useful political tool to show which ideology was better. The Eastern bloc set up a State-sponsored doping regime led by the East Germans and went on to dominate the medal and record count, particularly in the women’s field.

The West, led by America also doped — some more than rumour — and also went on to continue dominance of the sporting arena. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fiasco that passed off as the Seoul games, however, one would have thought that rampant doping, or at least politicising sports, would have ended. Unfortunately, there has been no such luck.

Instead, we have been greeted with an attack against the Russians for State-sponsored doping on an ‘industrial’ scale. Now I would never be so naive as to say that the Russians aren’t doping, or even that it’s not State-sponsored, as we have all had our suspicions. But I have to ask, why bring this up now and so selectively?

It is no coincidence that Russia and the political West are at loggerheads, tensions have not been this high since 1990. The West may well be looking for any and all ways to absolutely discredit and shame the Russians. It would be the mother of all coincidences if the political climate played no role at all in the total exposure of Russian ‘programme’.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence, as exposing the doping programme ties in well with psychological operations and turning world opinion against the Russians. Unfortunately, what that then means is that doping has again gone political, on both sides.

With Tyson Gay being the most recent high profile American athlete being found guilty of doping and with United States Anti-Doping Agency having been in apparent collusion with Lance Armstrong during his doping days, shouldn’t serious questions be posed to US athletics, or do they get a free pass because they are coming down hard on the Russians?

Britain’s Mo Farrah, UK athletics and UK Anti-Doping also make for interesting viewing. With another Farrah trainer caught up in a doping scandal in less than three years, and with sports like football and rugby — which have a less invasive testing regime than athletics — and a banned player to boot (looking at you, Rio Ferdinand) shouldn’t we really be asking them questions too?

Staying on the topic of football and systematic doping, does anyone recall what happened to those involved in the alleged Spanish doping ring in 2013? That is the point; doping is rampant in sports and everyone involved knows it, whether they are doping or not.

The allegations are so selectively aimed that it has long since past the point of being farcical. Yes Russia dopes, but so do the Turks, almost every other year we hear of a slew of Turkish athletes banned, as seen in the
CBC article titled ‘33 Turkish athletes suspended for doping’. And what of the central Asian republics, all doping and mastering weightlifting and the like, but they are not banned (see
Express Sports article titled ‘Kazakhstan admits five positive in Olympic doping retest’). The farce is no longer funny and one has to ask seriously now, are we really interested in cleaning up sports or fulfilling some nations’ vendetta against another?

It is sad that doping has become politicised again, it’s a real problem and has the real potential to kill off the professional game. That, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing as athletes continue to earn weekly wages that the majority don’t make in a year and the tickets continue to be overpriced. Maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad if professional sports, as we currently know it, dies. But it would be sad because we allowed personal politics to interfere with our sporting and moral convictions, and that goes for both the political East and West.

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