Phil Gifford: Hypocrisy is never far behind drugs when it comes to athletics

Usain Bolt hugs Justin Gatlin after the American won the 100m final at the World Athletics Championships in London.
SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IMAGES

Usain Bolt hugs Justin Gatlin after the American won the 100m final at the World Athletics Championships in London.

OPINION: You didn't need a degree in body language to see that Sebastian (now Lord) Coe approached shaking 100 metres winner Justin Gatlin's hand at the world championship medal ceremony in London with all the enthusiasm of a man about to have a rotting haddock slapped into his palm.

Coe, now the head of the world athletics body, the IAAF, later said he believed Gatlin should have been banned for life in 2006, when he was found guilty of using illegal drugs for the second time.

Coe, an Olympic gold medal winner as a middle distance runner, has every right to make that call. So do other clean athletes like Dame Valerie Adams, who, long before she was ripped off by Belarus thrower Nadzeya Ostapchuk at the London Olympics in 2012 was unequivocal that a drugs cheat should be out of the sport forever. "Once a cheater, always a cheater," she told me in 2011 when we worked on her biography.

Mo Farah's controversial coach Alberto Salazar has been described as 'patently calculating, misleading, and dishonest' ...
REUTERS

Mo Farah's controversial coach Alberto Salazar has been described as 'patently calculating, misleading, and dishonest' by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

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But what you can guarantee when drug use enters sport, is that its slimy little friend hypocrisy will be right by its side.

Gatlin beat Usain Bolt last weekend, and, sure enough, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, outraged at Bolt being robbed of a golden swansong, demanded life bans for drug cheats.

Where is the hypocrisy in that statement? In the last decade or so almost the only world class Jamaican sprinter who hasn't failed a drug test is Bolt, and the cheaters have helped haul in a glittering array of medals for Jamaica.

The list of shame is star studded. Asafa Powell, once a world 100 metres record holder, was banned for 18 months in 2014. Life ban? Hardly. He said his trainer gave him a tainted substance. His sentence was reduced to six months on appeal.

Yohan Blake, the second fastest man ever after Bolt in both the 100 and 200 metres, was banned for three months in 2009. He was one of five Jamaican sprinters at their 2009 national championships who apparently all had colds at the same time, which, they claimed, led them to use a nasal spray which included the banned stimulant tests picked up.

But let's not accuse Jamaica of being in any way the only country big on drug hypocrisy.

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Go back to the banning and shaming of Canadian Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Loaded with so many steroids he looked, as Arnold Schwarznegger was once so famously described by Clive James, "like a condom full of walnuts", he beat American Carl Lewis to the finish line in the 100 metres, but was stripped of gold within two days after a failed test.

Lewis had been complaining about Johnson all northern summer in '88. "A lot of people have come out of nowhere and are running unbelievably, and I just don't think they're doing it without drugs," he told a British TV interviewer. "If I was taking drugs, I could do a 9.80 right away. Just like him (Johnson)."

Hypocrisy? Through the roof. In 2003 a whistleblower from the United States drug testing organization revealed old documents that showed Lewis had tested positive to not one, not two, but three banned stimulants at the American trials before the '88 Games. The results were buried, along with positive tests by almost 100 other athletes, by the US Olympic Committee.

Lewis' response in 2003? "It's ridiculous. Who cares? I did 18 years of track and field and I've been retired five years, and they're still talking about me, so I guess I still have it."

Part of the reason media hellfire rained down on Johnson was because he wasn't smart enough to play the wronged naïf. Lewis, on the other hand, feigned dewy eyed innocence with ease.

Sadly I think some of the same sort of public relations may be in play with the current ban by the IAAF on Russia.

I'm not for one second arguing against the Russian ban, after the discovery of damning evidence that drug use in athletics in Russia is literally state sponsored.

But could fans handle it if we found, for example, that as charming as Bolt, the best known and most popular athlete in the world, is, he was no better than the majority of his Jamaican team-mates when it came to using drugs?

Briton Mo Farah's beautiful smile is as endearing as his fearless long distance running. What do you with the fact that the conduct of this lovable man's coach, Alberto Salazar, was described in a US Anti-Doping Agency report just last year as "patently calculating, misleading, and dishonest"?

We've always loved the vision of Kenyan distance runners emerging from the red dust of the Rift Valley, their genius a legacy of centuries of running as part of nomadic life. How do we reconcile that with more than 40 Kenyan athletes failing drug tests in the four years to 2016?

Clamping down on drugs in athletics shouldn't a beauty contest.

However, if you're not one of the Trump family, going weak at the knees when Putin takes his shirt off, it's easy to feel pleased about the stony faced Russian regime being embarrassed by their blanket ban.

Should we also have a niggling worry that popularity may mean the same searchlight doesn't shine as brightly on other parts of the world?

 - Sunday Star Times

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