Track & Field

10 reasons to be hopeful in the wake of the latest doping scandal

By Kevin Byrne, guest columnist

These are obviously bad times for the sport. That cannot be overstated.

All it takes is a quick Google news search for the word “athletics” and you’ll see how bad the situation is. In the nuttiest of nutshells: Russia – one of the strongest athletics nations in the world – has been covering up drug test results for years, and the former president of the IAAF is involved.

Pretty bad, huh?

But there are reasons to be hopeful. And here are 10 of them:

1) It is now all out in the open

Speculation about doping in Russia has been rife for years. Now we know the true extent of the problem. This is simply too big for there to be no consequences. Seb Coe, the new IAAF president, said that he wanted to make clear changes in his first 100 days and this is the perfect opportunity for him to do that.

Mariya Savinova takes gold at the 2010 World Indoor Championships ahead of Jenny Meadows. Image: PhotoRun

Mariya Savinova takes gold at the 2010 World Indoor Championships ahead of Jenny Meadows. Image: PhotoRun

2) Clean athletes will benefit

Based on what was published in WADA’s report, it is highly likely that many medals from recent major championships will be stripped from Russian athletes and reallocated. Yes, it would have been better had the cheats not been there in the first place and had the clean athletes had their moment on the podium. But it is still a positive outcome; medals don’t always end up in the hands of the rightful owners.

3) It is being independently investigated

Athletics fans can have full faith that this case is being properly looked into as there are investigations from the IAAF’s independent ethics committee, WADA’s independent commission, and – lest we forget – Interpol.

Time's up: Lamine Diack visits Times Square ahead of the New York Diamond League in 2012  Image: PhotoRun

Time up for a shady customer: Lamine Diack visits Times Square ahead of the New York Diamond League in 2012
Image: PhotoRun

4) The cronies are no longer in power

As Dick Pound said when he delivered the report, the responsibility for this mess lies with “a few rogue individuals; not the organisation as a whole”. Thankfully, all of the people under investigation at the IAAF are no longer there, and the organisation is currently going through a big restructure under Coe’s leadership. Whether or not you believe that Coe is the right person for the job, he is a damn sight better than what went before. And would the alternative presidential candidate – Sergey Bubka – have been better equipped to clear up this mess?

5) It’s the tip of the iceberg – for sport as a whole

Given just how much the state have been shown to be involved, it is difficult to believe that doping in Russian sport is just restricted to athletics. Perhaps further down the road it will be discovered that similar things are going on in other sports, in that country and others. If it takes a case such as this one to lift the lid on doping problems in other sports and in other countries, then that can only be a good thing.

6) Coe probably didn’t know

When the German documentary was aired, Coe described it as a “declaration of war” on athletics. He was also gushing in praise of Diack when he took over as president of the IAAF. As ill-advised as Seb’s words now appear in hindsight, it’s actually a sign that he genuinely didn’t know what was going on.

No one in their right minds would have made such comments had they been aware of what Diack was up to. Diack and his cronies obviously knew that what they were doing was wrong, so why would they involve more people than was necessary? It would have been pretty easy for them to hide this from a vice president who rarely spent time in the Monaco offices.

7) Whistle-blowing is a powerful tool

One thing that this case has shown is that blowing the whistle can and will lead to a positive outcome. Several key figures – some Russian athletes and coaches, plus a few journalists – started to lift the lid on the situation in Russia a couple of years ago. Now it has all come to fruition.

Athletes and coaches should now take note. It’s frustrating to see athletes making comments such as: “I’ve known for years that this kind of thing was going on” without ever having reported anything to the authorities. Standing by and doing nothing is nearly as bad as doping itself.

Party time: there are still many top performers who are worth watching, like pole vault star Renaud Lavillenie. Image: PhotoRun

Party time: there are still many top performers who are worth watching, like pole vault star Renaud Lavillenie. Image: PhotoRun

8) There are still many clean athletes around

As bad a picture as today’s news paints of the sport, there are still many athletes out there who have shown that it is possible to reach the very top without resorting to doping. Ashton Eaton, Renaud Lavillenie, Christian Taylor, Greg Rutherford and Jessica Ennis-Hill – some of the biggest names in the sport – are living proof of that.

9) The worst offenders have been caught

It would be naïve to think that only Russian athletes dope. But at the same time, it is fair to assume – given the evidence recently brought to light – that they are possibly the worst offenders. Suspending the whole team would be a step in the right direction. In some ways, a suspension of the Russian federation would be unfair on the few clean athletes on the team. But hopefully those clean athletes will then feel compelled to urge their national federation into taking action and making significant changes.

10) The only way is up

There’s no denying that when the findings of the criminal investigation against Diack and co is published, it will be a dark day for the sport. But from them on, things can – and will – only get better.

Okay, enough references to dodgy pop songs from yesteryear.

Oh, what the hell…

Image via PhotoRun
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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He has won two sports-writing awards, the Peter Ball Memorial Award in Ireland and the Wills Writing Award in the UK. Nationally, he previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, the Guardian and The Independent in Britain. He is a regular contributor to Running Times, Runner's World, RunBlogRun and the IAAF website.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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