Saturday, 17 May 2008

Those Naughty, Naughty Athletes

Blimey, the athletics world is really going down the pisser, isn't it? This last 12 months, not only have we had Marion Jones being convicted for lying about her use of performance enhancing drugs; we have also seen Tim Montgomery get a 46-month prison sentence for check fraud and Dwain Chambers launch a High Court appeal to have his lifelong ban for doping overturned in the name of Unfair Restriction of Trade.

The last one is easily the most interesting. The name Dwain Chambers probably won't mean much to people outside the UK, but his story is an interesting and instructive one. Once mooted as a possible candidate for the fastest man in the world and Britain's best sprinter by a long shot, a few years ago he was found to have been taking practically every drug in the book, from THG to HGH to insulin, and banned for two years by the World Anti Doping Agency - but for life by the British Olympic Association. He's now fighting to have the latter ruling overturned by mounting a legal challenge and claiming that the British Olympic Association is unlawfully restricting his ability to make money as a professional athlete.

Dwain Chambers. Cheating.

The nerve of the man is incredible, but what's even worse is that he seems to think that, by dishing the dirt on the methods used by drugs cheats, he should be allowed off the hook. It's almost like he's been watching Goodfellas and thinks he can pull a Ray Liotta - then maybe get on a cushy deal with a witness protection scheme. (Although it's fair to say he wouldn't be able to get into the Olympics then...) In any case, I'm always dubious about people asking for "second chances" in situations like this; I think when someone is genuinely contrite they tend to slink off into shameful oblivion, not clamour for another bite at the cherry. If anything, to do what Chambers is doing is to rub his crime in the face of other, honest athletes all over again.

I wonder if athletics will ever be able to resurrect its image after the hammer blows it has been getting in recent years. Worse than the cheating of people like Chambers and Marion Jones is the cynical lying which they practiced for so long. Jones especially used to be strident in her condemnation of drugs cheats, while she was committing the same crimes all along. The hypocrisy almost feels worse than the act itself.

Anyway, it's difficult to imagine a kid waiting for the Olympics this time around and the chance to watch a true great like Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson in action. Instead the overwhelming feeling will be, I think, "When's it going to come out that the gold medalist has been rubbing himself all over with testosterone cream?"

1 comment:

Bilbo said...

The sad problem is that we have allowed athletics to become big business, with vast amounts of money at stake. When an athlete sees that his potential income is based on greatly outperforming everyone else, rather than being part of a team, he (or she) starts to believe that whatever enhances performance potential is okay. I don't think we'll ever get the athletic toothpaste back into the tube, which is a terrible shame both for athletics itself and for the young people whose role models are now drug abusers and convicted criminals.