One of the banes in recent years, in elite sports like the Olympics, is the use by some competitors of performance enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage. The Olympic movement has understandably taken a tough line over drug cheats, including many high profile bans on athletes in more recent years. Detecting drug taking has nowadays become a sophisticated undertaking as new methods are continually being found to avoid being found out.
The issue came to a head in the games just finished in that for certain of the Olympic disciplines, the Russians were banned altogether, because it was found the national picture was that drug treating was rife and not only did the national bodies responsible do too little to prevent it but in cases this was encouraged. As it happened, the Russian team still did well regarding winning medals and one wonders how they might have fared if they had been allowed to compete in every Olympic discipline.
The issue has not gone away as the controversy over the Paralympic ban highlights. Not only do the Russians have a job to do to clean up their entire sporting act and convince the world they have done so, but they have been entirely banned from the Paralympics due to begin in two weeks. Understandably, there have been reactions to such a ban, starting with the inconsistent approach by the mainstream and para- Olympic movements. The Russians feel hard done by, having already put in place measures to prevent drug cheating, and feel the decision made has been politically motivated. Most of the Russian Paralympic athletes are clean and their hopes of being able to compete have now been dashed. But listening to yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today program, the point was made that the dirge of Olympics are now beginning to affect the Paralympics and that strictly speaking the Russian Paralympic movement have broken the rules, and the drug issue needs nipping in the bud.
It is a matter of much sadness and regret that the decision has been made, but on balance it appears to have been a right one. In hindsight, it would have been consistent, as well as brave, to have put the blanket ban on the Russian Olympic as well as Paralympic associations, but the main thing now is to work together for the full reinstatement of the Russians for the next games, especially given what they have contributed in the past and no doubt would do so again. While some may think this irrelevant, and while it is important to ensure a level playing field and uphold the sportsmanship ideals of the Olympic movements, it is a matter of discomfort that there is now the professional / amateur divide and, being brutal on the matter, a country like Great Britain with its 67 medals and 65 million population at the Olympics just gone has done so much better than a country like India with its 2 medals and 1.3 billion population; this because British athletes are supported to a much greater extent than Indian athletes.