Another day, another lengthy report outlining the failure of another sporting body to act with integrity and transparency.
This is getting to be as regular as a Steve Smith century.
On Thursday, the World Anti-Drug Agency released the second part of its independent investigation into allegations of widespread doping in international athletics and had this to say about the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), the sports governing body:
“When the president of the IAAF, his personal counsel, two of his sons in positions of authority, the director of the medical and anti- doping department and the deputy secretary general are all involved in questionable or criminal conduct, the reputation of the IAAF itself is brought into question and it is that reputation that must be restored.”
(If that sounds familiar, it is because the Justice Lodha Committee said similar things about the reputation of the BCCI and the need for that reputation to be restored.)
Damningly, the WADA report states “The IAAF Council could not have been unaware of the extent of doping in Athletics and the non-enforcement of applicable anti-doping rules.”
In other words, who knew what and when is a question current president, Lord Sebastian Coe, who was part of the IAAF Council should have to answer, especially since the report claims his right-hand man, Nick Davies, “was well aware of Russian skeletons in the cupboard”. Davies was forced to step down as IAAF deputy general secretary last month pending an inquiry after an email in which he discussed a secret plan to delay naming Russian dopers before the 2013 world championships in Moscow was leaked.
(If this also sounds familiar, that’s because the CBI report into match-fixing in 2000 stated that BCCI officials knew more fixing than they were letting on and failed to act against the threat of it).
While Dick Pound, the chairman of the WADA independent commission that prepared the report, did back Coe as president, saying he couldn’t “think of anyone better than Lord Coe” to lead the clean-up effort, the rot appears deep set and with the French police investigating Dick, his son Papa Massata Diack and other officials for bribery, the issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
The IAAF scandal is just the latest in a long list of corruption or doping scandals that has rocked sports around the world just this century. The list includes football, cricket, baseball, cycling, boxing, figure skating and athletics. It makes for sobering reading.
Those sports that aren’t on the list aren’t necessary clean either. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer have all called for stricter drug testing on the ATP tour.
"There needs to be more resources,” Federer said. “It's very important. Players need to feel that they're going to be tested, so they will shy away from any stupid thought they might have. I’m always surprised when I walk off court after a final and I'm like 'where is anti-doping?'"
Swimming could well have a doping problem too, if you believe, John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, and Bill Sweetenham, the former British Swimming national performance director. According to Sweetenham, “it’s all leading to Rio being one of the dirtiest Olympics we've seen. It needs a massive broom to clean this one up so clean athletes aren't living with a cloud over their head, and the dirty athletes and countries are removed.'
If you think India is immune to these problems, think again. As many as 500 sportspersons, mostly weightlifters and track-and-field athletes, failed drug tests conducted by NADA between 2008 and 2013.
That’s no accident, according to this India Todaystory from 2011, which quotes anonymous sports officials saying the problem isn’t taking banned substances, it is India’s lack of expertise in using masking agents to cover up the drug taking.
“Let's not fool ourselves by saying that the India sports establishment wants a clean environment even if our athletes keep on finishing last. Some athletes would surely win without taking banned drugs, but not the majority," one of the unnamed officials is quoted as saying.
How logical and not at all comforting.
All of which has the nasty result of leaching the joy of watching the world’s best athletes travel higher, further, faster or hit a ball higher, further and faster. It is not that everyone is corrupt or taking drugs. It is just impossible to tell who is who.
So what’s a 21st Century sports fan to do?
Answer: For now, trust no one — especially officials and administrators — and don’t believe your eyes. Accept that sport is tainted from the head down and watch it as entertainment and not a celebration and demonstration of the human body’s natural capabilities. This isn’t fair to those athletes who are clean but it beats the alternative of naively believing sports continues to offer the level playing field that life doesn’t.
The good news amid the bad news is that the recent stream of revelations should begin to act as a deterrent. If those that indulge in corruption know they are being watched, they could decide the risk outweighs the reward. That’s not to say corruption will cease. As long as corruption is part of society, it will be part of sports.
But the days when omnipotent sports administrators did as they pleased just might be coming to an end.