The Sporting Spirit: The problem of drugs cheats in sport
As the Olympic Games came to an end, the London 2012 legacy began to take shape. However one thing which these games have failed to achieve is the breaking of the relationship between top class international sport and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In the months leading up to The Games, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) announced that over 100 athletes had received bans after having tested positive for prohibited substances which prevented them from competing in London. Of course, it is not necessarily the case that all of these athletes were going to be selected for London 2012, but it was their use of drugs, not their defeat to stronger, fitter, faster opponents which prevented their qualification.
Even during the games, there have been 11 athletes (at the time of writing) who have been sent home and had their result annulled having tested positive for banned substances ranging from cannabis to testosterone. A further athlete was sent home by her team management before she had even competed after discussing with them the fact that she had injected herself with a substance which was “outside of the medical code”, despite passing a drugs test conducted in June.
Whilst no members of Team GB have tested positive at these games, there are three members of the team who have previously served bans for drugs-related offences. Most prominently, Dwain Chambers benefitted from a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport which over-ruled the British Olympic Association’s decision to give a lifetime ban to athletes who had tested positive for doping. This meant that his ban was lifted and he was allowed to compete in London. Cyclist David Millar also previously served a ban for taking prohibited substances and 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu was banned from competition for one year in 2006-2007 after failing to show up for three drugs tests.
The BOA’s stance had always been quite clear: once a cheat, always a cheat, as the saying goes. Yet the overruling by the CAS has brought into question the punishments of athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs.
If we look at George Orwell’s writing on the sporting spirit, we might, along with him, conclude that the aim of sport is to win. The people who take drugs are simply the epitome of a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competitiveness which is part and parcel of what sport is all about, and we are fooling ourselves if we believe that sport is about the coming-together of peoples in an environment of goodwill. Yet I would argue that some of the value of sport lies in the pushing of the human body to achieve incredible things. That nature has created a human being capable of running 100 metres in less than 10 seconds is astounding, what place has science to meddle with that? Can Dwain Chambers, who knowingly took steroids, or Justin Gatlin who was caught having taken testosterone, be allowed to race alongside men such as Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay or Yohan Blake? These are men who have devoted their lives to training, and who are the fastest men on Earth through a combination of talent and hard work. By allowing athletes who have cheated to compete again, are we not undermining the efforts of the clean athletes?
Perhaps the BOA’s initial stance was farfetched. After all, those who break the law and are sent to prison are eventually given a second chance through their release. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that athletes who cheat undermine their own sport as well as deflecting attention away from the successes of their peers to their own misdemeanours. I for one hope that the IOC and WADA are able to come up with a system which preserves a sporting spirit which I believe in – one of fairness and a level playing field where we as spectators can marvel at the incredible things of which the human body is capable without being distracted by those who break the rules and who leave a bitter taste in the mouth if they succeed.