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Rio under scrutiny

By Tim Potier

Those who have known me since I was small will recall my love of sport as a child. I used to be obsessed by football as much as any young boy today is and I would watch all the sporting programmes on television from beginning to end.

As regular readers of this column will recall, I have long since given up on football and the only sport I am interested in is American football. Last weekend the world was energised by the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Now, well into the first week of the Games, I have still to watch even a minute of the action.

So, what has happened to the boy who recalls, for both the Olympic Games in Los Angeles (in 1984) and Seoul (in 1988) staying up all night, every night, anxious not to miss a minute? For the Olympics at least, and the sports it showcases, doping is the overwhelming reason for my total disinterest.

I will not comment on whether the Russian Federation should be competing at all in Rio, although their paralympic team has just been excluded. I will not comment either on the case of British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who managed to miss three drugs tests within the past year and still competes.

I will not investigate other athletes either banned from taking part or taking part (including some who have been banned) and for whom a cloud of suspicion hovers above them. Remember, as I reiterated in my recent column on the coup in Turkey, I will not speculate on matters I do not have the knowledge to comment upon.

However, even all of us uninformed would surely agree, from the regular reports fed to us, that there has to be something rotten in the state of international sport. Of course, cheating is not new.

Even when I was a little boy, growing up in the countryside, the member of a family close to all things equestrian, I was reminded that one should not place too much reliance on the form in horse racing.

It is many years now that football (in particular, amongst other team sports) has been the victim of match-fixing and gambling syndicates.

In recent times, tennis and many leading tennis players have also come under the spotlight. Thus, it is wrong to concentrate our attention solely on the veracity of the performances at Rio and the apparent failures of both the International Olympic Committee and its national committees.

The sad truth is almost certainly that this is not a new phenomenon. If you are old enough, cast your mind back three to four decades. Forgive me for the hackneyed example, but remind yourself of those enormous (in muscle size) athletes from the former Eastern bloc who used to dominate the medals and break world records.

Yet, those records have since been broken. Indeed, not only in the sport of athletics (both track and field), records continue to tumble (including at Rio). Yes, I have no doubt that the preparations for any Games are so much improved, in terms of training, diet and mental focus, beside a whole host of other techniques, but my far more general and fundamental question is this. How is it possible that the records keep being broken at such a sustained level and, surely, as with any other animal, isn’t there a natural limit (for any species), unassisted, to which it can run, swim, lift, throw (etc.)?

You see, it is my fear that we have long been duped. That, in reality, this is a contest instituted in laboratories, by chemists devising performance enhancers that remain within permissible limits, by chemicals that remove signs of illicit drugs having been administered and by procedures almost designed to fail.

To a certain extent, we are all to blame for creating this state of affairs. Ours is a modern society consumed by success and the celebrity that comes with it. In many sports the difference between being a winner and just a participant, in terms of securing sponsors and commercial endorsements, is enormous. Little wonder, therefore, that the temptation for many to cheat is too great to resist.

Yet, so long as we live in an international society which only dreams of success and demands our media portray it, so the corporate world will continue to associate itself with sportsmen and women who even it, in many instances, probably questions. The sad fact is that there are no obvious solutions to this problem. Global citizenry may come to make a difference by not watching and demanding ever-closer scrutiny. Alternatively, it may give up and come to accept chemicals and potions; preferring the spectacle to nature.

Who knows, maybe the track athletes of the future may be able to fly. Thankfully, I won’t be alive to see that.

Dr Tim Potier is Head of the School of Law at UCLan Cyprus

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