Sport

Where does athletics go from here?

The credibility of athletics has been dealt a major blow following the announcement that sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell have both tested positive for banned substances, alongside six other athletes.

Photo: Huffington Post

Gay and Powell, two of the fastest men in history, could say very little to salvage their once clean records. Whilst Powell reiterated an exhausted line of “I am not now nor have I ever been a cheat”, Gay attributed his failed drug test to someone else, saying “I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down”. The American went on to justify his blind trust with the phrase “that’s what people do”.

Unfortunately, these revelations are becoming all too familiar occurrences for some of the most decorated sporting icons. Prominent figures such as Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones have all been found guilty of cheating their respective systems.

In an interview with the BBC, Lynsey Sharp, European 800m champion, said, “I have thought ‘what’s the point in doing this if this is what I’m up against?’”. Above all, this should be the biggest concern for governing bodies; to ensure the proper measures of justice are met so that athletes that are clean remain so, in spite of the pressure placed upon them. This, by extension, will retain the faith of fans. However, the highly debated question still remains; how can this be done?

One option that has emerged recently is a form of penalty with regards to money earned during an athlete’s career. Paul Halford wrote in Athletics Weekly “Athletes need to be made to sign a contract saying they will hand back all earnings derived from any proven drug taking”. Whilst suggestions such as Halford’s hold weight, it is unlikely that athletes who are willing to risk their reputation, the sport they love and the respect of family and friends will be discouraged by losing money from possibly only one or two meets.

A more drastic and controversial option would be complete legalisation of all performance enhancing substances. Sharp’s concern highlights the need for change, with corrupted athletes seeping through the cracks in the current system. Complete legalisation would level the playing field in a sense, removing morals from the equation. However, this would make athletics no longer competition based upon sporting ability, but rather a question of who has the best pharmacist.

The inescapable option that remains is a lifetime ban. It seems right that this was not enforced from the beginning; governing bodies needed time to identify where the line was to be drawn. However, recurring offenses show that a ban of only two years is simply not sufficient. In the case of athletics it seems to be only extremes that help to enforce integral rules.

For instance, false starts at races caused immense delays, with athletes being given two chances to jump the gun before being disqualified. However, with immediate disqualification now facing a false starter, these issues have vanished and, although causing some occasional controversy, its effectiveness is indisputable. It will be the same when governing bodies inevitably turn to lifetime bans.

With Gay and Powell being wiped off the leader boards, James Dasaolu, a strong British contender, will become the third fastest man in 2013. While it is possibly too soon to carry the expectations of a nation, it is worth hoping that Dasaolu’s career grows stronger without being influenced by the recent problems surrounding a seemingly tainted sport.

27/07/2013

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