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More than sport – Part 2


When I wrote the first part of this article for last Friday’s edition, the World Athletics Championship 2015 was still in its early stages and the legendary Usain Bolt had just recorded the first of his triple triumphs. Much, much more was to follow to bring great pride and jubilation to Caribbean people.{{more}}

The final medal tally told the story. A small Caribbean nation of just over 2 million people, Jamaica, sat joint top of the gold medal standings, sharing pride of place with the East African nation of Kenya. How the racists and deluded believers in racial superiority must squirm in their seats!

Jamaica’s achievement of seven gold medals surpassed that of the USA by one, not to mention its continued dominance of the prestigious sprint titles. The USA is nearly 100 times the size of Jamaica, has a population 160 times greater and a Gross Domestic Product over 1,000 times the size of Jamaica’s. These are but small indicators of the scale of achievement of the athletes from Caribbean and African countries, with all their challenges of underdevelopment.

Such is the impact of those successes in track and field that it has brought a renewed sense of pride to all Caribbean people, pride which has been in the process of being doused due to the dismal performances of our cricketing representatives, players and administrators alike. In fact, such is the spin-off that in Jamaica, one political commentator has urged Prime Minister Portia Simpson to take advantage of the euphoria and national pride sweeping the country, and call elections soon!

But there is even more to the ramifications than performances on the field. Last week, this column mentioned the doping issue, the hope of sporting enthusiasts that the “clean” (in terms of being drug-free) Usain Bolt would triumph over the drug cheats. He did, and twice-convicted Justin Gatlin was singled out as the “enfant terrible”. But Gatlin was only one such offender.

In both the men’s and women’s sprints, including the finals, there were several athletes who had been punished for performance-enhancing violations. Not just Americans, mind you, but Jamaicans and Trinis too. Several high-profile Kenyan athletes were also among offenders. Indeed, right on the eve of the Games, it was revealed that nearly one-third of medal winners in recent Olympics and World Championships had dubious drug test results.

The issue has put the credibility of the world body, the IAAF, to the test, just as the world cycling body and international cycling must face up to the challenge of cleaning up the sport. The matter is not new, but has assumed massive proportions in the context of the millions to be made in sport today. The post-war rivalry between the western nations and the Soviet bloc was used as motivation to resort to doping to promote national pride and perceived political advantage.

The influx of vast sums into sport, especially from multi-national sponsorship and television rights, has fuelled even more greed among athletes, coaches and administrators. It is so in athletics, as it is in tainted football, in boxing, in cricket, in whatever. Match-fixing and illegal betting are all part of the game. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what are genuine contests and which ones are fake.

Performance-enhancing drugs are but one part, albeit a big one, of the problem. The scale of the operations can be judged not only by the number of athletes and coaches caught, but also by such revelations as that this week, following a US Drug Enforcement Agency raid which turned up illegal labs all over the USA.

Corruption is rife in international sport, (just consider FIFA and CONCACAF), with the stakes so high that administrators fight tooth and nail like politicians to retain power and influence. That is what has made it so difficult to clean out the proverbial Augean stables, (in fables, stables which had not been cleaned for 30 years, denoting great filth), in the sporting corridors.

We, as innocent spectators, get caught up in friendly rivalries, as we back our national or favourite club, teams or athletes. But sinister forces are behind seeking to continue the game of manipulation for their own selfish benefit. The struggle goes beyond the drug cheats. Much more dangerous cheaters and crooks have infiltrated sport at all levels. They must be resisted exposed, fought and driven out, for much more than sport is at stake.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.