Doping embodies much more than cheating in sport; it can highlight the flaws of an entire nation’s identity.
2016 saw Russia accused of “state-sponsored” doping with their intention being to manipulate results as a project of propaganda enhancing Russia’s domestic pride as well as its international image. This backfired, triggering a media storm against the Russian ethos in, what one could argue was, a counter-propaganda blizzard aimed at destroying Russian integrity once and for all. However, note how Russian media claimed it was “unlikely” the WADA report was independent. Yes we can go on and on about the validity of Russian media given half of it is effectively written by the government but staying in our own ‘western bubble’ is dangerous; it is healthy and democratic to question even the most accepted values and opinions and so that is what I intend to do.
Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, Linford Christie, Rio Ferdinand, Christine Ohorougu are just some of the many British house-hold names who have been suspected or even indicted of doping offences but even global stars whose stories we take to our hearts, such as Diego Maradona, Maria Sharapova and Lance Armstrong, are treated just as admirably by the British press as any clean athlete. Do we have a culture in this country to criticise other nations for wrongdoings that we ourselves are just as guilty of? Of course there is bound to be a subconscious bias in support of our own ‘home-grown’ athletes; I realise that I do that all the time by demonising foreign culprits such as Justin Gatlin who, in the US, is almost seen as the revitalised hero of American athletics, and defending domestic ones, such as Dwain Chambers, in return.
I believe we can draw many comparisons with the on-going immigration feud that has engulfed not only our country but entire continents as well; we find it fine to dehumanise fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, many of whom are fleeing persecution in war-torn countries, yet, if you were in their position, you would find it nigh on impossible to understand why there are borders being shut, family businesses being looted, and friends being hurt all just because you are branded as an “immigrant”, a foreigner, a social outcast. Likewise, it is effortless for us to criticise Russian athletes indicated in the scandal yet, do we really know the pressure they have been put under; is focusing most of our blame on the athlete really fair? I am by no means defending the actions of any doper but there must be reasons for their actions.
Yuliya Stepanova, the whistleblower who triggered the Russian scandal, gave an interview to the BBC last year stating that the initial reason for doping was due to her coach normalising it, claiming everyone in Athletics did it – if everyone else is doing it why can’t you; if you’re not taking the drugs you are at a disadvantage. The coach gives her banned substances after a chest infection – logically you could say this is fair because you’re already at a disadvantage being ill; this injection will just let you get back quicker and easier. These drugs will help you win, earn you fame, acquire vast sums of money, the only punishment you’ll get is 2 years but you keep the money and the experience and the thrill. In a country that state-sponsors doping how much choice does the athlete get? The state, in what sounds like a plot for some distopic novel by George Orwell, craves results and will bully any whistleblowers until they are crushed; Stepanova is now in hiding somewhere in the States and will never be able to return to her homeland.
Sport has been politicised, this is no secret, and it’s not something that has just arisen over night; America and the Soviet Union challenged each other for decades culminating in boycotting each others Olympiads. How can it be stopped is a much tougher question and, personally, I believe the toughest sanctions should be made. By that I mean prison sentences – the Armstrong example shows just how much money there is in cheating, therefore, I believe it is fraud and just banning someone from a sport is not enough; there must be jail term served by athletes, coaches and doctors, all earnings should be paid back. Many criticised the IOC for not coming down harder on Russia for the Rio Games, I believe that sanctions should be much tougher; whole nations should be banned from competing. It is key that doping be treated just as any other criminal offence, without this doping will just continue to dominate sport and news for many more years to come.