Written by Jen Offord


Cheaters never prosper

Among all other kinds of shit hanging over the Rio Olympics, the doping scandal looms large. Jen Offord takes a look at one of sport’s biggest moral mazes.

medalsWith the Rio Olympics hurtling towards us, you may remember fondly (or not so fondly, if you lived in London and used buses) the ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ feeling of the impending games.

Times it by 10 over in Brazil, where the president, Dilma Rousseff, is about to be impeached; the frankly horrendous Zika virus is apparently putting off athletes and spectators alike; and the beaches and cycle paths where events are due to take place are falling down/covered in shit.

OK, let’s not get hysterical – I’ve got three words (actually characters) for you: G. 4. S. And we did all right, didn’t we? We had a whale of a time!

Infrastructure and political issues seem very much par for the course with big events such as these; the big difference between now and then, or so we are told, is that now everyone’s off their tits on performance enhancing drugs, legal, illegal and nearly not legal.

Oh wait, it transpires it’s not actually all that different, after all. The Russian athletics team remains suspended from competition, and medals awarded to its athletes in previous Games are potentially about to be handed to those – such as Team GB’s javelin thrower Goldie Sayers, placed fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – who missed out as a direct result (we presume) of their peers’ non-recreational usage.

I’ve never really understood the point of cheating: in relationships; in monopoly; in that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the swimming coach turned all his swimming team into flesh-eating sea monsters… Admittedly there was one occasion on my birthday a few years ago where I was pretty liberal in the points-for-me-awarding department during mini-Olympics in the park, but it was my birthday – those fuckers should have let me win.

Jen's birthday party turns ugly. No wait, is it Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Jen’s birthday party turns ugly. No wait, is it Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

This aside, what’s the point? You’ve not actually won anything, have you? You’ve not proven yourself to be better than anyone else (also, juggling bed-friends seems to me to be a logistical nightmare that I’m just not interested in putting myself through). To be fair to them, the sea-monsters lived on a Hellmouth; it was a different time.

The problem is, however, that if Goldie Sayers and various others are retrospectively awarded medals for games gone by, they didn’t really win them either. Nor have we any real way of knowing if they would have done. And that kind of sucks more than getting beaten by a cheat in the first place – not only did you potentially miss out on your chance on the podium, you’ll never really know if you deserved it.

To further complicate the MORAL MAZE of doping, some of this stuff isn’t even illegal. Regard the curious case of tennis ace Maria Sharapova who was taking meldonium – prescribed for heart conditions – for health reasons. She wasn’t alone: there are thought to be hundreds of other athletes who were taking or have already failed tests for use of the performance-enhancing drug, only added to WADA’s banned-substance list in January this year.

Goldie Sayers setting a new UK javelin record in 2012. Photo by Robbie Dale, via Wikimedia Commons.

Goldie Sayers setting a new UK javelin record in 2012. Photo by Robbie Dale, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m with Andy Murray on this, in that it does seem unlikely that all these elite athletes would be prescribed drugs on the grounds of heart conditions, which kind of famously get in the way of running around and all that stuff. But, should they not have been taking something that wasn’t actually banned?

Also, while the ultimate responsibility does and should lie with an athlete as to what they put in their body, I’m inclined to suspect that those decisions rarely lie solely with them. There are structures in place here: coaches piling on pressure to perform; these are people who athletes have been involved with from young ages, who they trust implicitly to do the right thing by them.

Sharapova is an interesting example. Though it seems unlikely she’d be prescribed medication for a heart condition, you might be willing to believe her continuing use of the drug after it was added to the banned-substance list was an oversight – after all, as one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, she had an awful lot to lose. Her high-profile status afforded her a platform many others were not, to make her case, to hold her hands up and come clean – in a manner of speaking.

Maria Sharapova in 2011.

Maria Sharapova in 2011.

Yet in doing so, this carefully orchestrated media stunt may actually have backfired on her. The authorities later accepted they couldn’t really be sure how long meldonium stays in an athlete’s system and therefore accepted that many athletes may have stopped taking the drug prior to it becoming banned. But at her podium on that fateful day, Sharapova had already seemingly admitted to taking the drug after that cut-off point.

So where does that leave her? According to reports on Thursday, Sharapova’s been named in Russia’s Olympic tennis squad – a month before the verdict of her appeal is known. Perhaps she should have lent the whole country her media team.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen