There is an ill wind blowing through the world of sports these days.Ever since star sprinter Ben Johnson of Canada was stripped of his 100-metre title at the 1988 Seoul Olympics,after being caught taking banned drugs,a host of world class athletes have tested positive for "performance enhancing substances ".
Several have recently faced daunting struggles to clear their names.Linford Christie,Britain 's 100 metres gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, allegedly tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone (used to stimulate muscle growth)at a meet in Dortmund,Germany,in February this year.In late August,the International Amateur Athletics Federation served a two-year ban on him.
Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, winner of seven Olympic medals,was found to have tested positive for nandrolone in Lucerne,Switzerland,in July 1999.Determined to establish her innocence so that she could compete in her final Olympics this year at the age of 40,Ottey appeared before an IAAF arbitration panel in June and succeeded in clearing her name.
And Javier Sotomayer of Cuba -the first high jumper to clear 8 ft (2.4 metres),gold medallist in Barcelona and current holder of the world record (2.45 metres)-is alleged to have tested positive for cocaine at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada,last year.
On the one hand it appears ludicrous that an athlete of Sotomayer 's reputation -who has taken eight doping tests this year and more than 60 during his career -would want to take a recreational drug like cocaine.Jose Ramon Fernandez,head of Cuba 's Olympic Committee,says,"Cuba believes in Sotomayer 's innocence,his integrity and his ethics.Cuba knows his conduct and the respect he enjoys around the world."
On the other hand,cocaine is not just a highly addictive drug which gives thrill-seekers a dangerous \'high '.It is also a potent stimulant which can give that extra little fillip to a determined high jumper 's flip.It is noteworthy that although new methods for detecting performance-enhancing drugs are being discovered,there is a definite reluctance by sports authorities to accept them - or even to encourage research into their development.
Whether it is Canada,Cuba or China,the initial reaction of authorities is always to appear dumbfounded when one of their athletes is accused of taking drugs.They defend their charges vigorously,saying it was a conspiracy,a na?ve error in testing or even a mix-up of samples,and casting aspersions on the motives of the accusers until it is proved beyond any doubt that the allegations are true.
Take the case of Werner Reiterer,a former Australian Olympic discus thrower and gold medallist at the 1994 Commonwealth Games,who rocked the sporting community when he decided to document his experiences. In his book,Positive ,published in July, Reiterer makes the claim that many Australian athletes and swimmers were taking drugs."Here was I doping for gold," he writes,,"another guilty athlete swallowed up by a massive sporting culture."
But in response the Australian Olympics Committee did not launch an enquiry -they simply arranged a meeting with Reiterer.He emerged refusing to name names,having been offered a position as Drug Educator at the Sydney Olympic Games.Every- thing is now forgiven.
Meanwhile,American athletes are rarely caught out by a random drug test.This is not so much a sign that they are squeaky clean,but that they benefit from a quaint rule that exempts them from drug tests if they are 129 kilometres away from the test site.It is not uncommon for sportsmen,on being tipped off,to get into their cars,drive a safe distance away and make a telephone call to say that they are unavailable for testing.
Could international sports survive in the 21st century if all those taking drugs were caught?I think not. I don 't believe that the likes of McDonald 's or Coca-Cola or Ansett Airlines would want to pour their money into a drug-infested Olympic Games.The authorities know this too,hence cover-up after cover-up.
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games," said Baron Pierre de Coubertin,the founder of the modern Olympics,"is not to win but to take part -just as the most impor- tant thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle."
The Baron would be saddened if he knew that after 100 years of modern Olympics,it appears that the criterion for success these days is not just winning -but being able to win without being found out.