The Agenda: When are we going to stop putting faith in the cheats?

Six athletes were revealed as having tested positive for banned substances at the weekend. Stuart Rayner argues as sports fans we are all poorer for it

Michael Steele/Getty Images (Asafa Powell) Al Bello/Getty Images (Tyson Gay) Sprinters Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay
Sprinters Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay

It had been another terrific weekend of sport. Trust some idiot to go and spoil it.

The adrenalin of a thrilling Ashes Test match was still coursing through the body when allegations broke on Sunday afternoon that something had been going through Tyson Gay’s system that ought not to have been.

Not Gay, not one of most vocal athletes in the sport’s war on drugs and a pretty amazing one at that – the fastest man over 100m this year?

It was, though, the tip of the iceberg. Scarcely had the news broken than it emerged that five more athletes, all Jamaican, had failed drugs tests. One was Asafa Powell, whose 2006 world record-equalling 100m at Gateshead will live in the memory of those of us who witnessed it. He is the third fastest man of 2013, a gold medal winner at Olympics, World and Commonwealth Games in the days before Usain Bolt.

Another was Sherone Simpson, another former Olympic champion. The identity of the other three remains unknown, though Bolt’s agent assures us he is not one. Small mercies and all that.

Minus Gay and Powell, the 100m final at this year’s World Championships could be a head-to- head between Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Who is a convicted drugs cheat.

Pity James Dasaolu, the Londoner whose 9.91sec 100m at the British Championships earlier that day would have been the big athletics story – in this country at least – had it not been for matters off the track.

Maybe it was no bad thing. Perhaps drawing attention to his fourth personal best in five weeks would only have heightened the nudge, nudge, wink, winking around him.

Men's 100m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Men's 100m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games

That is the problem athletics now faces. Sudden improvements are regarded not with joy, but suspicion. That humans can just suddenly get better no longer seems a plausible explanation, and every failed drugs test makes it seem harder to argue that it is. The more are caught taking drugs, the dirtier the sport looks. But the less news on that front, the more you wonder if the authorities are lagging behind the cheats. In some cases, willfully.

It is not just athletics. Yesterday one of Chris Froome’s nearest rivals in this year’s Tour de France defended the Briton as the innuendo started to swirl. Winning the Tour de France is such a feat of endurance it is sometimes hard to comprehend how anyone could do it clean.

What little faith the sporting public had in the event was destroyed when Lance Armstrong, as firmly seated on the moral high-horse when it came to drugs as Gay, was exposed as a cheat.

The impassioned defence of Froome – “I think his results are the fruits of the work he puts in and nothing else. I fully believe he is clean” – might have carried more weight had it not come from Alberto Contador, back in the saddle after winning the 2010 Tour on clenbuterol.

How many more kicks in the proverbials do sports fans have to take before they stop coming back for more? Gay, Powell and Simpson have all denied “deliberately” taking banned substances, but only the American put that into context. “I don’t have a sabotage story,” Gay said tearfully. “I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA (the United States Anti-Doping Authority)’s hands, someone playing games, I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”

Powell too cited lack of vigilance before reports in Italy yesterday suggested a raid on his hotel room by a specialist drug and food safety police unit found around 50 boxes and vials of medicines and pills “disproportionate” to the needs of one athlete.

If it is as easy as Gay implies to dupe athletes into taking banned substances, are the rules too harsh? Of course not, athletics has never taken ignorance, or failing to show for a drugs test, as an excuse.

That some sports are willing to is a stain on them. Football’s reluctance to sign up to the World Anti-Doping Code ought to have been reason enough to kick an ill-fitting sport off the Olympic  schedule.

Will the war on drugs ever be won? Probably not. Give up the fight, though, and we may as well all start watching the stage-managed wrestling which clutters up satellite television.

The cheats are so sophisticated and unscrupulous, it will forever be difficult for the testers to keep pace.

While the rewards are so much more lucrative than the punishments are harsh, the temptations will always be difficult to resist. That at least is action that can be taken.

How can Gatlin line up on an Olympic start line after having done so much to besmirch athletics?

Why is Contador allowed anywhere near the Tour de France?

We British like to get all high and mighty on the topic but how often is Dwain Chambers deafened by booing when he befouls the GB vest by donning it? Carl Myerscough was allowed his own bit-part in the greatest show on earth when any number of law-abiding athletes could have competed in his place at London 2012. Those that chance their arm must risk punishments which could damage their lives as much as they damage their sports.

Maybe the odd innocent will be harshly treated but the age of innocence, sadly, is gone for good.

As sports fans we are all poorer  for it.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer