20 Aug Time to think the unthinkable if athletics is to thrive once more
Paula Radcliffe is really quite cross that people keep questioning the cleanliness of her results. There has never been any serious suggestion that she broke the rules – but why does she not want to share her blood data?
Of course, there is the very strong argument: why should she? She has never been under any suspicion and so shouldn’t be backed into a corner to prove that she is clean. But surely someone who is so vocal on drugs should be judged differently? Unless she knows that the data will be ruinous to her reputation as the cleanest of the clean. Whether it is a point of principle or not, here is one of the leading global figures in anti-doping saying that transparency is not the answer. I find that troubling.
If Radcliffe wants people to stop asking questions about whether she is clean or not then she should just put it all out there. She will always be under some superficial suspicion because of how good she was – and it is wrong to suspect just because of brilliant performance. Unless you are Paula that is: ‘’I am not going to name names, but it must be obvious to anybody in the sport that some of the improvements people have made are suspicious,” she once said – clearly missing the fact that her marathon world record is a full three minutes better than her nearest rivals. In her autobiography, she also talks of how disturbed she was by the performance of Wang Junxia in setting the women’s 10,000m world record. I am sure Junxia was equally perplexed on watching Radcliffe win marathons by a literal mile.
The point is that – as Paula says in her fawning interview with the BBC – you can never conclusively prove that you are clean. But Eightlane has long argued that athletes need to be absolutely transparent in order to protect the integrity of the sport. This is why it would be a great idea for all test results to be public record and for athletes to be forced to list the medication and supplements they are on. The general public would be really shocked to know what is ‘allowed’ so long as you have a doctors’ note. They’d be even more shocked to hear of some athletics associations actively promoting such phantom prescriptions.
Radcliffe is a clean athlete. She has never been proven otherwise and her status as the greatest marathoner of all time will probably last for the rest of her life (no one has ever got near it and I see nobody on the horizon who might). But for such a prolific campaigner for the sport to be cleaned up, she surely has to step up herself, swallow her indignation and start to show the world that transparency is the pathway to clean competition.
Talking of transparency, wasn’t it nice to see Lord Coe elected as President of the IAAF? In the wake of all the scandals that currently beset the sport, it is great news to have such an able politician in place to sort everything out. The major revelation of the day was the fact that the sport now belongs to the good Lord. In every interview he conducted, we heard ‘my sport this’ and ‘my sport that’. It is nice to know that his Presidency will not be similar to that of the personality cult practiced by his good friend Sepp Blatter just down the road at FIFA.
A number of us at Eightlane have been against Coe winning the Presidency for a host of reasons, but chiefly because he is an insider with no motivation to change anything. A career sports politician does not climb the greasy pole without an exceptional ability to not rock the boat. Hence we had his bizarre proclamations last week that ‘war had been declared’ on his sport (it belonged to him even then). This ‘war’ was not from the athletes under suspicion but by those pesky journalists who kept shoving their noses in. Now where have we heard this before? Perhaps Coe has been taking lessons from Sepp in crisis management.
Ed Warner, the UK Athletics Chairman, was giddy with excitement on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday morning. Something of a man-crush was clearly in evidence as he waxed lyrical about his man’s attributes. But does he really believe that the ‘great’ Seb Coe can sort out the mess? And let us be clear – the sport is a total mess at the moment. Coe has been a Vice President of this mess since 2007.
Coe thought that Juan Antonio Samaranch – the man that covered up numerous doping scandals and brought the IOC to its knees – was ‘an inspirational man’. His brilliant success as FIFA’s ‘ethics tsar’ has been well proven in recent months. And this is before we even get started on Lord Coe’s business interests. Like the company he chairs recommending the destruction of the spiritual home of athletics at Crystal Palace. How will that inspire the next generation of track and field talent?
The truth is that doping is the least of the sport’s worries now. We have all been distracted by it since the German revelations at the end of last year. But participation is down and the global brand is failing dismally to match its competitors. The sport takes too long, isn’t accessible to a wider audience and is suffering from major credibility problems. Many of the individual events could and should be culled from mainstream competition. And the sport’s global following revolves almost exclusively around one man – Usain Bolt – who himself appears bored with the whole thing.
As with Paula’s dated attitude to the opaque sharing of biological information, this presidential election needed the athletics community to think the unthinkable. It isn’t nice to have to share your blood data when you have done nothing wrong. And many of the changes the wider sport needs to make won’t feel very nice either – particularly to those affected. But if this sport is to survive, such discomfort will need to be endured. Instead, we are to be left with the same old excuses just packaged slightly differently.