The case of the IAAF and the latest doping allegations is an all too familiar tale in sport today.
A whistleblower says something or produces evidence. The sporting body against whom the claims are made angrily denounces the claims and, in the process, denigrates the claimant(s) or those who dare to question the accepted ‘system’ that keeps the sport ticking-over.
There is instance-after-instance of it in sport in recent times. Cycling, athletics, football, cricket, handball, tennis. We hear claims of match-fixing, doping, greed, mismanagement and, in much publicised cases such as FIFA, corruption.
The responses are so similar that I wonder if there is a handbook somewhere for national and international sporting bodies that tells them, when confronted with a crisis, to attack the people who highlight the issue rather than the issue itself.
In the latest example concerning the doping allegations produced by The Sunday Times and the German television network ARD/WDR, we have been presented with evidence of an “extraordinary extent of cheating” in world athletics.
What has world athletics done? The same as every other sporting body: point the finger of blame at the journalists and the whistleblowers and huff-and-puff about evidence being “stolen” – not actually deal with the substantive point about whether it’s true or not.
The next step is to bombard us with facts and figures and put a bit of a PR gloss on them as if to say: ‘See?! Look at what we’ve done’. And that’s exactly what has happened. The IAAF has told us how many tests they have done, how many they have followed-up, how many athletes have tested positive for EPO and how much money they have spent on testing in the past two years.
That’s terrific. But does it alter the central thesis of the claims made by the Sunday Times/ ARD investigation? Were there some suspicious tests were either not followed-up and/or not sanctioned? Are there athletes with medals on their mantelpiece who ought not to have them?
Of course, if a sporting body has a celebrity to speak on their behalf, it’s even better. Lord Coe has been front-and-centre declaring that the Sunday Times/ARD reporting is an “act of war” against ‘his’ sport. With respect to Lord Coe – a wonderful athlete – it’s not an ‘act of war’. It’s a litmus-test of how athletics administration handles the claims, how it manages its sport and how much it has improved its processes since the athletics world was rocked with the Ben Johnson case in 1988.
But the IAAF is not alone. The issues we’ve been pursuing at SKINS in respect of cycling, football and the Orgeon Project are also litmus tests for those respective governing bodies.
As a sport-loving community, we are faced with a continuing erosion of confidence in how sport is managed, and a continuing erosion of trust in the so-called ‘level sporting field’ on which sportsmen and women compete.
All the good things that sport can demonstrate and teach our children and which we hope would shape our society – such as integrity, team work, competitiveness, fair play, honour, respect, hard work – are compromised because of the many ways in which we are constantly confronted with the latest sporting scandal.
Instead, what we are left with is a cultural gap between what we want our favourite sport and sporting heroes and heroines to be, and what they seem to be, often let down by the men and women who run the sport.
My wish is this. I hope that some day someone from a sport will actually say something like: ‘These claims are serious. ‘We don’t want them hanging over our sport. We don’t want any cheats. We don’t believe in cover-ups. We will look into it, and we will fix it.’
Until then, we’ll keep true to our values and we will continue to work with, support and help where possible, those who share the same. It’s our way of giving sport a sporting chance.