There doesn’t seem to be a month goes by without another bad news story surrounding the integrity of sports stars or the people who administer their sports. We have the ongoing investigations into corruption in football and the process by which host cities were chosen for top athletics events. Plus the number of sports stars who have fallen foul of the reclassification of the heart drug Meldonium. In an Olympic year especially is the concept of faster, higher, stronger forever tainted by pharmaceuticals and money?
The string of unsavoury revelations can leave the sports lover who wants to believe in the purity of the sport they love feeling rather downhearted and…well cheated. But I believe we should welcome each new exposé, no longer should the wizard be allowed to hide behind the curtain.
Cheats have always existed in all walks of life. Who hasn’t met the kid who wants to rely on a classmate’s hard work to see them through their exam rather than getting their head down to study themselves? Some people naturally seek an easy path through life and will use and abuse others to make that happen. Whilst outwardly confident, people like this are naturally insecure about their own abilities and plagued by doubt.
In the sports arena these human frailties can be savagely exposed. I have always been intrigued about the moment when sports men and women cross the Rubicon and start to cheat.
To be able to represent your country or club at the highest level takes years of dedication and hard work usually starting in childhood. What happens to the child inside, who set out with unsullied dreams of greatness, when the first pill is popped? How can it feel to betray that child who worked so hard for so long and how can any prizes won when cheating carry any meaning?
Is it possible for there to be satisfaction and a sense of achievement when you owe more to a chemist than to your own talent and hard work? Isn’t there still somewhere inside each one of them a starry eyed dreamer who cringes with shame?
Never mind the fact that the substances they are using could potentially cause their bodies harm. Think about that for a moment. Physically elite, their bodies hitherto a temple to training, healthy living and careful diet, how skewed must their mindset be to take the risk? How great the lure of fame and riches that common sense withers and dies taking integrity with it.
Sport at the highest level is awash with money and these huge sums can be corrupting. But a fortune that relies on gaming the system doesn’t have very stable foundations and when that house of cards begins to tumble it risks taking everything a person has achieved down with it, leaving only tarnished memories in its wake. Sure they might still have enough money to live very comfortably for the rest of their lives but for all athletes, if they are lucky, the vast majority of their lives will be lived after the glory days are over. That’s a long time to live in comfortable ignominy.
For all those reasons, I think we should pity those who have succumbed to temptation.
As a sports lover all my life I have had suspicions about the performance of some of the ‘stars’ I have watched over the years. Some have been borne out by later exposure, others not [yet]. But I firmly believe that exposure of corruption can only be a good thing. The light needs to be shone into the dark corners. If we shy away we may as well sanction the use of all enhancements.
There are some who think we can never beat the cheats. They may be right. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop trying.
So next time a scandal breaks, don’t shoot the messenger and never turn your back on the sport you love or denounce everyone as a cheat.
In this Olympic year in particular, pity those who have been duped into cheating or who knowingly sought to deceive and be glad instead of sad when another story hits the headlines. Every high profile exposure, every headline, every lost sponsorship deal or court hearing might make another athlete think twice. They may just step back from the brink and decide not to betray the starry eyed child inside and the world of sport will be better for it.