I confess that my natural tendency is to see the glass half full. But the title of this blog is the result of serious consideration, not blind optimism. I mourn with all athletes who have been affected by cheating and denied their moments of glory. And yet I find recent reports encouraging for the future of athletics.
1.) The science of drug testing has not failed
As an athlete, my impression of drug testing was that it could only catch athletes who carelessly ingested a contaminated supplement. The test results of intentional dopers were coming back clear because they were smarter than WADA’s scientific protocols. I would feel hopeless if this were the case because you cannot accuse without proof. But recent reports suggest the science is good, and we can be confident in our testing system provided it is well funded, independent, and uniformly followed across all nations. According to the reports, the biological passports of dopers were flagged. The doping problem lies within the administration that sits above athletics where bribes have been taken and test results ignored. It sounds strange that I would be comforted by this, but a problem identified makes way for a solution.
2.) Forensic accounting may be the most effective weapon in the fight against doping
Cheating almost always happens in the context of financial gain. There is always a money trail. What if the IAAF along with its administrators and support staff were randomly investigated by forensic accountants in the same way athletes are randomly drug tested? What if high level administrative positions came with a requirement for full disclosure of all bank accounts and business relationships past and present? Yes, this is slightly invasive. But then again, I pee naked in front of a stranger several times a year.
3.) Doping is not an “Athletics” problem.
I was so excited to watch Dafne Schippers crowned 200m World Champ in 2015! But I was angry and infuriated when instead of celebrating, Dafne had to defend herself against reporters who suggested she may not be a clean athlete because she doesn’t have flawless skin. There is an unfortunate association between athletics and cheating, and while it may be deserved, it should be held in context. For example, the FIFA scandal, the 2008 financial crisis, and recent concerns about match fixing in tennis all demonstrate that cheating is a human problem, not an athletics one. Athletics doesn’t have cheating in its DNA. There is a way forward, and there is hope for a clean future.
Athletics has opened itself up to examination. Things can look grim when you put a spot light on yourself, but it is the only way to improve. And we have made progress in this country. To put in perspective, 51 sanctions for doping violations are currently being served in in Great Britain. 55% of those are in rugby, 12% are in boxing, and 4% are in athletics. So, to British Athletics fans, sponsors, and media, please don’t give up on the sport, or on your athletes.