Something has happened at this year’s Summer Olympics that has at least the potential to save the games from the disheartening conclusion that drug-free competition is impossible.
In the past, evidence of doping by competitors was often met on the field by an awkward silence. That appears to have changed this year. Athletes are speaking up, directly confronting their artificially enhanced competitors. It could create a risk of unwanted friction, but it also could help to dissuade this kind of cheating practiced by some athletes, including those from Russia and China.
In the swimming competition, rivals of Russia’s Yulia Efimova and China’s Sun Yang are criticizing them to their faces. Both have served suspensions for doping. The problem, as Richard Ings, a former anti-doping official from Australia, said, is that trust is essential in this competition and trust has evaporated.
More than a quarter of the Russian delegation was banned from the Rio Olympics following reports of systematic cheating on drug tests. The other Russians are competing under a cloud.
Honest athletes don’t trust the International Olympic Committee, they don’t trust some nations and they don’t trust the athletes who come out of them. But the honest ones have little recourse against committees or countries. What they can do is publicly shame competitors who break the rules and, in that, hope to dissuade others from following suit.
If it sounds like a desperate theory, it is. But the Olympics are degenerating into dishonor. Doping is rampant. Professional athletes are now allowed to compete, defeating the games’ original purpose and placing amateurs at a disadvantage.
It’s enough to raise questions about the value of the Olympics. Indeed, but for those athletes for whom this is the ultimate competition – this is the pinnacle for the javelin throwers; basketball players have other options – the spectacle of drugged-up competitors winning gold and then lucrative endorsement contracts is enough to cause a casual watcher to get up and change the channel.
But maybe there’s hope in the new willingness of athletes to call out their dishonest competitors – to make a public spectacle of their cheating. Among those athletes is Camille Lacourt, a top French swimmer who was refreshingly blunt in an interview with L’Equipe, a French newspaper.
“They don’t belong in a sport,” he said. “They should make up their federation of dopers and have fun among themselves. It disgusts me to see people who’ve cheated standing on podiums. Sun Yang, in the 200 free, he pees purple.”
It’s not a bad idea. Let the drug-taking amateurs and professionals compete in some other event: the Enhanced Olympics. Sad to say, that category has included some American athletes, including bicyclist Lance Armstrong, who was both a chronic doper and committed liar.
With a Drug Games, the dopers can leave the Olympics to amateurs who train for years, forgoing many of the distractions of youth, in order to show up and give their best, win or lose.
Well, anyway, it’s an idea.