This week, in the wake of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission report which confirmed and amplified the worst fears about systematic doping and corruption within Russian athletics- and by extension called into question the legitimacy of the overall system in which these abuses were allowed – the voices have been heard of those directly harmed within the field of competition.
A tweet by David Gillick, Ireland’s winner of the European indoor 400 metres titles in 2005 and 2007, is emblematic of so much of the tormented comment from those within the sport: “I knew it was bad. I knew the powers that be had to be involved. It is rotten to the core & I wonder who else is corrupt! #iaaf”
Well David, just hang in there because there will be a lot more information on that coming out over the next few weeks and months.
In presenting his report to the media in Geneva on Monday (November 9), the Independent commission’s president, Dick Pound, described its contents as being the “tip of the iceberg,” adding: “Russia is not the only country and athletics is not the only sport with a doping problem.”
Words to send a cold shiver down the spine not only of all those complicit in what promises to be a miserably complex web of deceit and deception, but all those whose commitment to sport is pure and well intentioned.
In researching and writing a book on the broad subject of cheating in sport a couple of years ago, I was reminded of the unhappy truth that, when it comes to sporting corruption, there is nothing new under the sun.
The impulses to pervert the course of Olympic competition back in the days of the ancient Games, which involved early forms of “doping” - even though there were no banned substances as such - and bribery - stemmed from the same base human instincts which appear to be behind the latest dispiriting revelations. That is, a desire for glory which bolsters political ends, and sheer, naked greed.
Sport is merely ritualised warfare. But in a week where millions have honoured the Fallen, so many of whom sacrificed themselves in what was briefly and hopefully referred to as “the war to end all wars”, there is a sense within the sporting realm that there needs now to be a war on corruption with a similar objective.
WADA’s Independent Commission will publish another report before the end of the year into separate allegations of blood passport violations among endurance athletes that have not been properly dealt with by the IAAF.
Now that the hammer blow of the Russian report has smashed down faith in the integrity of the anti-doping effort itself, the sport can await expected revelations concerning athletes from Kenya, Turkey and other nations with a sense of dread.
But as Pound points out, the problems of which WADA are aware do not restrict themselves to track and field.
There are now fears that swimming may have a similar doping crisis. Russia currently has 27 swimmers serving doping bans and earlier this year came within one anti-doping violation of being temporarily suspended from competition.
The doubt has long since spread to the International Federation, according to Bill Sweetenham, the Australian who has served as head coach for national swimming teams at five Olympics, for three different countries. He is quoted recalling a call he made to the World and American swimming coaches conference in Ohio in September when he spoke to those present on their confidence in the FINA anti-doping measures.
“I was on stage in front of 700 of the world’s best swimming coaches and I asked who felt any confidence in FINA and not one person stood up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger has been speaking about the doping problem he believes exists within football. Two years ago he warned the sport was “full of legends who are in fact cheats.”
This week, in an interview for L’Equipe, he said. “I try to be faithful to the values that I believe to be important in life and to pass them on to others. In 30 years as a manager, I’ve never had my players injected to make them better. I never gave them any product that would help enhance their performance. I’m proud of that. I’ve played against many teams that weren’t in that frame of mind.
“For me, the beauty of sport is that everyone wants to win, but there will only be one winner. We have reached an era in which we glorify the winner, without looking at the means or the method. And, 10 years later we realise the guy was a cheat. And during that time, the one that came second suffered. He didn’t get recognition. And, with all that’s been said about them, they can be very unhappy.”
Those unhappy voices. They are all around.
With Russian 800m runners Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova now facing lifetime bans following the revelations of the first WADA report, American runner Alysia Montano posted an Instagram showing her finishing behind Savinova at a series of global events, with the accompanying words:
“A picture says 1000 words. Cheated out of moments I can never get back.”
Subtract the two named Russians from the results, and Montano stands to inherit world outdoor bronze medals from 2011 and 2013, a bronze from the London 2012 Games, and a silver from the 2010 IAAF World Indoor championships.
But the ripples spread far and beyond.
At the 2011 World Championships, for instance, Britain’s Jenny Meadows missed reaching the final by one place. At the World Indoor Championships a year earlier she had run a national record of 1min 58.43sec in taking silver behind Savinova.
This week Meadows tweeted: “Always suspected it but finally confirmation that the Russian Athletics Federation have denied me of my finest moments of my career”.
Not just the All-Russia Athletics Federation, but all those who allowed them to have their way, and all those who insisted on what way that should be.
As the sporting battle lines shift backwards and forwards in the long months to come, here is the human cost. It’s not war, thankfully. But there will be no peace until “unending attention”, as President Putin puts it, has been brought to bear upon this worldwide conflict of good and bad faith.