Humankind is naturally wary of optical illusions. In a world filled with nefarious statements and dubious facts, many seek solace in the seeming simplicity of tangible, physical evidence. You have to see it to believe it. Apparently.
This phenomena is even more visible in sports, where people push themselves to the limits of their physical capabilities to create a spectacle for all to behold. So when doubt over the legitimacy of athletes’ performances enters the arena, the effect can be debilitating.
Several months ago, German television broadcast a documentary alleging that 99 per cent of Russian athletes were guilty of doping.
The exposé also asserted that Russian athletes were bartering five per cent of their winnings for a supply of prohibited substances and that IAAF had failed to properly examine 150 suspicious blood samples between 2001 and 2008.
The scandal has since quickly grown in magnitude and severity. Russia’s doping problem is now being presented as being both deeply ingrained and widespread. Of all the athletes who have been tested for banned substances in the IAAF’s biological passport programme since 2009, more than half of those who have been subsequently banned have been Russian.
Following recent remarks made by the Russian minister for sports, Vitaly Mutko, that suggested doping began in childhood for some athletes competing in Russian sports academies, the possibility of the issue stretching back decades is becoming a serious concern.
Many years of athletic success could be cast into question, tarnishing the reputation of the entire athletics community and leaving many clean athletes who previously competed against Russians wondering how their careers could have been affected by the poor decisions of their competitors. For most, they will remain in anguish without a hope of resolution.
Jenny Meadows is seen by many as lucky. The 800m runner was given a gold medal to replace the bronze she was presented in 2011 when both the race’s winner, Russian Yevgeniya Zinurova, and compatriot Yuliya Rusanova were found with ‘abnormalities’ in their biological passports.
However, she cannot help but believe she was robbed of her moment on the highest podium. Meadows, who thinks doping is widespread in athletics, has stated that she believes that if correct, such allegations would “kill our sport” by driving sponsors away.
Most disturbing and potentially damaging of all, however, is the allegations that individuals within the IAAF have been complicit in attempts to cover up the scandal. Valentin Balakhnichev, ex-Russian Athletics Federation president and IAAF treasurer, Habib Cisse, IAAF legal advisor, and IAAF marketing consultant Massata Papa Diack, son of IAAF president Lamine Diack, were all named as involved.
Christine Ohuruogu has criticised both Diack specifically and IAAF as a whole, suggesting that the behaviour of the international governing body since 1999 has cast the sport she loves into disrepute.
Despite the inevitable damage further investigation will do to the perception of the athletics community as a whole, it is vital that the spotlight continues to be shone on allegations of doping.
The British world 400m champion has been frustrated by the apparent disparity between the aims of the IAAC and the athletes it seeks to represent. “We are all working really hard to put our sport in a positive light and then you have these guys at the top who are basically telling us they don’t know what’s happening”, Ohuruogu comments.
Some of the claims made in the documentary are now being investigated by the IAAF but many will question whether this will heal the wounds doubt has inflicted upon world athletics. If such allegations prove to be correct, the sport’s governing body will face a major struggle to regain the trust of athletes and fans alike and a total overhaul of the sport’s image will be vital.
Even if the scandals contributing to the current furore are disproved, serious questions must be asked about how athletics’ governing body should interact with both athletes and federations in the future.