By Jim Ferstle
The fastest Women’s 10K Olympic final ever run has been transformed from what it was, a great race where the top competitors actually raced for the full distance, into a Did They or Didn’t They Dope question. In the past this performance by the top runners at least would have been hailed as a historic event, a new era in women’s distance running. Instead it has become a headline item for doping in sports. Instead of celebrating the world, country, and/or personal records people want to know how many of them doped.
What it illustrates is the fact that organizations, such as the IOC, see the doping problem within sports as a public relations issue. It's a problem that requires more effort to contain instead of rhetoric that attempts to misdirect those who ask legitimate questions of why the necessary resources have not been raised for anti-doping organizations, such as WADA, which the IOC created for the express purpose of tackling the doping problem. Yes, the IOC contributed an extra $10 million during the past four years to help with research on discovering ways to detect dopers.
That seemingly large sum is about a tenth of what should have been allocated within the budget. As it is, that tenth has been effective as the retest of stored samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games showed. Record numbers of dopers were caught, but the IOC admits that the exercise is primarily to attempt to minimize the number of athletes who fail a drug test during the Games, not as a strategically planned use of the resources and funds to make testing a viable tool to deter athletes from giving in to the temptation to dope.
As the Russian doping scandal has grabbed headlines and drown out much of the traditional pre-Olympic rhetoric much time and energy have been wasted in counterproductive finger pointing and posturing by the IOC and WADA about whose fault it is that doping is becoming more of a problem, not less, as the days, months, and years pass.
There is enough blame to go around, not only for the two agencies, but to other actors in the equation, such as the athletes themselves. But when some athletes became pro-active by being openly critical of athletes who have doped and are returning to competition the IOC basically tells them to shut up even though the athletes have a legitimate concern as to what the proper punishment is needed to deter the tempted. To establish a new motto about doping.
Right now the mantra is that athletes have to dope because “everybody is doing it.” Everybody doesn’t dope, but nobody really knows who is or isn’t. It would be safe to say that there are more dopers now than there were when WADA was created, and continues to be "handled" as a public relations problem, not as it is a public health issue.
The IOC has ordered WADA to hold a meeting to talk about the problem and what can be done. Who will fund this? What is the agenda? How transparent will the process be, and who gets to take part in this exercise?
Will it just be more of a finger pointing and a blame fest, or will the participants be able to define the tools necessary to really address what needs to be done? If so, where will the money come from to fund this transformation? All serious and necessary questions that must be answered.
There is little trust in the system right now, and that trust must be restored. It won’t be solved with press releases and rhetoric. It won’t be solved by the athletes calling each other names. All the “stakeholders” have to leave their vitriol at the door and come prepared to draft an action plan that is properly funded and able to develop the systems to combat what has become the “cancer” in sports.
Will Rio be seen years down the road as the beginning of being able to deal with doping, or the tipping point toward turning sport into a freak show rather than a stage for the World’s best athletes?