Drugs in sports – even at Olympic level!

It’s nothing else if not utterly shameful. It is dreadful to imagine that some high flyers are being feted after winning accolades for performances which in fact are not genuine, since they have been artificially enhanced by drugs that the athletes consume. One such was Lance Armstrong, an American cyclist who, after winning seven Tour de France races, was stripped of his titles in 2012 because of evidence that he had been using drugs. In 2013 he confessed publicly that he had been doing so throughout his cycling career.

So even as we watch sports competitions and cheer the winners, let us not forget that they may not in fact be the genuine ones! And so no need to get overexcited about them. 

It is interesting and important to follow how Lance’s story of drugging was uncovered because it reveals the nexus that underlies the shady aspects of these mega sports events as well as the fact that many sportsmen are involved. According to Wikipedia, it was Irish sportswriter David Walsh in 2001 who wrote a story linking Armstrong to Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who was being investigated for supplying performance enhancers to cyclists.

In 2010, former U.S. Postal rider Floyd Landis, who had been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win for drug use, admitted to doping and accused his celebrated teammate of doing the same. This led to a federal investigation, and in June 2012 the U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) brought formal charges against Armstrong. Of course he vehemently denied using illegal drugs to boost his performance.

On October 10, 2012, the USADA released its evidence against Armstrong, which included documents such as laboratory tests, emails and monetary payments. ‘The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that the sport had ever seen, Travis Tygart, chief executive of the USADA, said in a statement.

Armstrong disputed the USADA’s findings, but the International Cycling Union supported the USADA’s decision and officially stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France victories, and also banned him from the sport for life.

While the issue of drugs in sports is flagged most prominently when big events get under way, undoubtedly the practice is widespread, and not only among the most well-known athletes. So many minor and major scandals have been reported over the years, and even the opportunity to participate in the Olympics did not deter athletes from a high potential risk and threat to their honour.

In the context of the current Rio Olympics, the Russians have been accused of running a state-sponsored doping system for several years. In spite of this, on July 24 the International Olympic Committee ruled to impose only a partial ban on the Russian team, leaving it to the governing bodies of individual sports to decide which athletes could be allowed to compete based on their own criteria. Of course several countries have not seen this with a good eye, understandably so.

The point is that the Rio Olympics have been tainted by this drug scandal, and the undertaking by the Russian government that it will investigate that scandal, and set up the proper regulatory structures to ensure that there will henceforth be very strict surveillance of Russian athletes, in no way mitigates the bad perception that has already spread.

On the other hand, the Rio Olympics have unfortunately been plagued by several other problems from the start, such as poor infrastructure in the accommodations for athletes and accompanying officials, the level of sewage pollution in the sea where certain competitions were due to take place, threats of terrorism with the arrest of ten people who were planning attacks at the Olympic venue a couple of weeks prior to its opening. The latest incident is an attack on a bus carrying journalists, but luckily no one has been hurt.

If there is any redeeming element, it is that the Rio Olympics are actually taking place – because there were strong apprehensions about it happening with the breaking out of the political crisis that led to the destitution of President Dilma Rousseff and her replacement by Michel Temer, himself being accused of corruption subsequently.

Let us hope therefore that none of the gold or other medal winners in the Rio Olympics whom we may have cheered may in future have to be stripped of a medal because of taking drugs. That would really put a shame on the whole Olympic Games event, and be a very sad day for sports lovers in particular and the international community in general who look up to sports winners as icons to be emulated.

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The inheritance of loss

‘The inheritance of loss’ is the title of a book by Indian author Kiran Desai. It is a very apt description of what is awaiting future generations of as yet unborn Mauritians, who will be indebted deeply if the country goes on in the way it has been for a while now. As it is, the Light Railway System has already incurred consultancy expenditures of over Rs 2 billion. The latest saga, the abandonment of the Heritage City project, does not stop there: for the consultants will have to be paid their fees amounting to Rs 123 million.

If we were to make a survey of such and similar projects by successive governments, along with what comes up in the Annual Audit Reports, it would not surprise us to find the wasted expenditures running into billions.

Perhaps politicians should keep in mind that they will not be in power forever, and the future generations will also include their descendants too. And that they have a responsibility which takes into account this reality, for their own good, that of their descendants and the future Mauritians whose families have put them into power.

TP Saran

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