The Special Olympics, like the Paralympics have in so many ways caught our admiration and respect, as we cheer on disabled children and adults competing for gold and glory. Arguably, the Modern Face of Paralympics, until that fateful incident on Valentine’s Night 2013 was Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Then facing charges of premeditated murder of his fiancée Reeva Steenkamp, the paralympian was briefly being rumoured of being a sport doper, courtesy the flip-flopping police of South Africa. First, in February 2013 the Detectives on the matter had reported that boxes of testosterone and syringes had been found in the bedroom of the accused. This piece of information ramped up the anxiety of the sport world. If proven, it could have meant the final nail on the coffin of Brand Pistorious. At stake, were the medals he won at London 2012 and the few commercials left available to him, after his fiancée’s death. But it was not to be. The magical South African Police withdrew the reports, while his lawyers identified the substance as Testis compositum; which is said to be a herbal remedy in aid of muscle recovery. Such is the disdain the sporting world has for drugs cheats. It is therefore self-explanatory why the recent heroics of drugs cheats like Justlin Gatlin and Dwain Chambers hardly draws applauses from spectators. Once a cheat, always a cheat; they say.
The question is, why do athletes cheat?
The question is, why do athletes cheat? Because they want to win at all cost right? Because of Gold and Glory uhn? But what about the clean guys who’ve worked sweat and blood to be there? It’s not to suggest that drugs cheats have not been hard working too. But how comes they dope? I will get there in a jiffy.
Early this month, some high profile athletes have been shamed as drugs cheats. Amongst these are Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and Sherome Simpson, both of whom tested positive for the banned substance Oxilofrine, while USA’s Tyson Gay tested for an unidentified substance. While Powell was quick to deny the findings, Gay, who had been the face of USADA’s “My Victory” anti-doping campaign, accepted the fate that awaits him, but importantly maintained, “I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down”. Now, who the heck is this someone? It could be a personal doctor, physiotherapist, manager and even the corporate interests; such as the sponsors. But why would they want the athletes to cheat? Vested interests! The higher the athletes earn, the bigger their pay cheques.
This jogs my memory to France 1998 (FIFA WORLD CUP) and the case of Brazil’s Ronaldo and that mysterious ‘blue pill’. I read an account by his roommate then, Roberto Carlos, of how Ronaldo had suffered convulsion hours before the final against the host nation France. The description of his illness should have automatically ruled him out of the team sheet. But yet, the young star had to play, because millions of spectators around the world were tuning in to watch the “Boy Wonder”. Football is about revenues, and Brazil were enjoying the biggest sponsorship deal in football history through NIKE (about $160m). So, put NIKE’s interest on top of FIFA’s revenue drive, and see how players are merely pawns in a chess game. Though his team mates knew that Ronaldo was not fit for the match, the youngster agreed to play, not because his mind and body told him to, but because forces beyond his control were pulling the strings. This incident also pointed to one fact; that coaches and managers are mere mortals where the corporate world is interested. Otherwise, how comes Coach Mario Zagallo was kept in the dark about his player’s convulsion? And who, according to eyewitnesses, was the mysterious fellow who walked up to Ronaldo as they lined up in the tunnel waiting for kick-off, and gave him the ‘blue pill’? And what was the ‘blue pill’? Was it valium, as the Brazilian Committee to investigate the tournament was made to believe, or was it a power enhancement drug (meant for horses as some observers have claimed?). Whatever it was, Brazil as a football loving nation were not impressed with the zombie-like Ronaldo they saw that evening, while the corporate world were the big time winners-Ronaldo’s appearance! Ronaldo back was well looked after, till he retired. He won’t go down in history as a drug cheat, but Maradona did, probably because of his rebellious nature.
These are the murky characters that keep on ruining sports and participants; yet, it is the latter who take the blame and shame. In the wake of the recent drugs scandals, Canada’s ex-sprinter Donovan Bailey in an analysis for the BBC said: "When money is involved, you are going to have cheats, people who push the envelope. We are in a sport where one thousandth of a second can be the difference between success and failure.” And warns athletes, "You don't go to an athletics meeting to watch the trainer, coach or masseur run a race. The onus is 100% on the athlete to take responsibility for any substances going into their body."
I am not in Usain Bolt’s circles, so won’t say for sure if he’s squeaky clean. Bolt himself moaned, “Those who fail tests make the others look bad. It leads to the criticism of athletics as a whole, and it is hard to turn that feeling around”. However, what I do know is, the less confident athletes become, they resort to doping because of the enduring presence of athletes like Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt. They look at their potentials; ages, records, work ethics etc, and think they we’ll never beat them, so, they pop in a pill. It was the path Ben Johnson, Linford Christie and/or their agents took, and it’s the short-cut Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and a lot of them are taking now. It’s not the first, and surely won’t be the last.
But the truth is, do drugs like steroid make athletes any better. Shamed ex-Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson thinks not. In an interview with The Guardian in October 2010, Big Ben argued that rather than making him run faster, steroids worked primarily as a placebo. “I think it is a psychological boost. It doesn’t make you faster. If an athlete just sees what is naturally inside them I believe they can achieve their goals”.
It therefore beggars the question. Why take drugs then? The answer may be found in the innate covetousness of sports personalities; like all human beings, to equal or surpass the feats of their rivals. In so doing, they cheat their rivals, their sports but above all their inner most convictions. And see what damage they have done to the reputation of athletics. Let’s hope those we expect more from don’t go down that path. And we will hold Mr Usain Bolt to his words when he said: “I am well aware if there was any hint of a drug scandal against me it could finish athletics. I can assure you that won’t happen”.
By, Saidu Kaye Sesay, London