The doping revelations that have hit athletics over the past few weeks have been a big wake up call for Olympic sport.
I say 'revelations', but actually I don't think many people involved in sport are in the least bit surprised to hear that Russian athletes have been taking drugs.
What is surprising however, is the depth of the support they had for this doping and the alleged level of covering-up and/or turning a blind eye within Russia & the wider athletics federations.
It’s reminiscent of the problem in the 80s with Eastern Bloc countries and East Germany in particular, and of course China in the 90s. I competed during both those sad times and had results affected by those cheats. As much as everyone suspected/knew what was going on, we were powerless. There was no proof until it was too late and the damage was done.
This time it's different; it seems there is evidence. I doubt this is the end of it. Much like the Lance Armstrong saga, there will be more revelations, more names will come out, more sports could be implicated and I suspect a few people will not be sleeping too easy at the moment.
The IAAF have provisionally suspended Russia from track and field events in all international competitions for the foreseeable future, but unlike the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), who have banned Bulgaria from competing in the sport in Rio, it's expected that the Russian suspension will be lifted before the Olympic Games. That's just not good enough.
The head of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, has urged athletes to boycott the 2016 Olympic Games if the IAAF end the suspension and allow Russian track and field athletes to compete.
I can’t dispute his view that it will be impossible for Russia to make the necessary changes and have a system clean athletes can trust, in just eight months. But is a boycott the right course of action?
As an eight-year-old swimmer who, dreamt of going to an Olympic Games, I witnessed the heart-break of one of the older girls at my swimming club who would've competed at the 1980 Games for Hong Kong had they not boycotted.
I didn't understand why she wouldn’t be going. Fast forward to 1986 and I watched athletes on the news in tears having arrived in Edinburgh to compete at the Commonwealth Games, only to be told they were being pulled out. Thirty-two countries in all boycotted those Games.
The athletes from one country, Bermuda, did not find out until the day the competition started. The swimmers due to race on Day One would have gone through their final preparations; shaving down, packing their swim bags and watching the Opening Ceremony on TV, resting their legs rather than marching in it.
They would've been mentally preparing to race on the first day, just like I did at four Commonwealth Games. And then they were told they were going home. All that training for nothing. Years of training for nothing. I can’t imagine what that felt like.
These instances, and the boycott of the 1984 Olympics, were different of course. These were decisions made by politicians who had no connection to sport, using athletes to make a point. The athletes were just pawns in a much bigger game.
So is it time for athletes to take a stand for the good of their sport and to protect the ideals of the Olympic Games and in doing so make the ultimate sporting sacrifice of missing out on an Olympics?
In my opinion, they shouldn't have to.
It's time now for all the International Federations to stand up for their athletes. More specifically, to stand up for their clean athletes.
More Federations need to take a strong stand like the IWF have.
Take swimming, for example. As far as I’m aware, Russia has the most doping cases of any country in swimming since 2009, numbering more than 20. Despite warnings, the Russian testing laboratory discredited in WADA's damning report into athletics was used during the World Swimming Championships in Kazan this summer.
So it's time for FINA, the World Governing Body of swimming, to get tough too. They and others have the chance to stand side-by-side with the athletics world and deal with the problem in their sport before it's too late and more events and results are tarnished.
They MUST start asking questions. They MUST use the evidence to take action so that the athletes, who are the only reason they even exist, don't have to.
Posted on 24/11/2015
by Karen Pickering