How to get rid of cheap victories

At the end of last month, a most curious prize-giving ceremony took place at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. In fact, it may well have been the weirdest cérémonie protocolaire in the history of modern sport.

A Finnish hammer thrower occupied the podium eight years after he had finished second at the European Athletics Championships hosted by Gothenburg. No other athletes were invited onto the podium. In Sweden, he had narrowly lost to a Belarussian thrower; on home soil, he was fêted as the 2006 European champion. (The prize-giving occurred during the annual track and field match between Finland and Sweden.)

According to track authorities and the Finnish media, the 2006 gold medal had finally been handed over to a person who truly deserved it. You see, the poor Belarussian had been exposed as a ‘drug cheat’ after another round of laboratory tests.

For a critical observer, however, the cozy little ceremony merely illustrated the fundamental inaptitude of urine control.

If and when the scientists still stumble with the samples, who can vouch for the ‘authenticity’ of this year’s European Athletics Championships’ medal tally? For how long do we have to wait until today’s ‘cheats’ are deprived of the prizes they snatched from their ‘clean’ colleagues?

Besides, the behemoth known as anti-doping is not only hugely inefficient. It has never been a transparent, confidence-inducing endeavor. We don’t know whose samples get retested and whose old urine drops are left alone. On what grounds are specific athletes or countries targeted? Of course, Belorussian athletes are perfect enemies for those keen on protecting the image of sport; Belorussia used to belong to the Eastern Bloc and it has no leverage in any international sports federation.

Further, we cannot be sure that all positive samples are made public in the first place. It transpired recently that the International Olympic Committee resorted to an old-fashioned cover-up in the closing stages of the 2002 Winter Olympic games. The Olympic lords could stomach only three cases of illicit blood manipulation in Salt Lake City; two similar cases were hushed up so as to prevent ‘a huge stink’ from spoiling the Olympian enjoyment (New York Times, 7 February 2014).

I hardly have to add that anti-stink conspiracies are as easy to carry out in 2014 as they were twelve years ago.

It follows that the much-vaunted laboratory tests severely distort the reasonably fair results obtained in a face-to-face contest. Sadly, elite athletes are obliged to pay lip service to anti-doping’s ‘noble’ intentions, although they are deeply aware of its true nature. An athlete who dares to dissent is quickly branded as a potential ‘cheat’ by the media.

If only the oppressed athletes could overcome their fears and unite against the enemy! Just imagine a principled silver medalist refusing to accept a gold medal s/he doesn’t deserve! Others would feel empowered and follow suit, which would finally bring the curtain down on the entire urine inspection comedy.

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