If you’ve got even a cursory interest in professional sport, or likely even if you don’t, you won’t have made it through the week without hearing about the shocking findings of WADA’s report into doping in international athletics and particularly the allegations of deep-rooted corruption in Russian athletics.
The tone of outrage is well placed – both at the offenders themselves and those (IAAF) who have failed to act to date. Countless clean athletes have been cheated, spectators’ trust abused and international competitions sullied with doubt.
It’s fair to say it’s not been a good week for athletics – and the problems are as clear in running as pretty much any other discipline. There has been talk this week that there may be no way back for athletics – even Seb Coe isn’t sure if the sport has a future.
For me though – I don’t want to jump into the doom-mongering.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve loved competitive sport at every level for as long as I can remember. I’d watch tiddlywinks if there was a chance of a close game involved. Participating in, watching, listening to, reading and talking about sport has enriched my life and continues to do so. And so it disgusts me that in age of professionalism, unparalleled investment, coverage and globalisation in sport athletics’ approach to anti-doping remains distinctly amateur.
But… its precisely because of this power to connect, because running can be as meaningful to the beginner battling through the first hardest mile, the “100” club parkrun stalwart, to the swathes of runners running not for themselves but for charity, to remember, or to inspire – that I have faith. Faith that running and athletics can come through this.
The intrinsic, dark corruption at the elite level thankfully represents only a tiny part of the sport. The average runner is not in thrall to the athletes in the same way as Sunday league players seem to be to their undeserving heroes. We’ve wondered in the past if this is a good thing – if it is the reason we’re not running fast times and breaking world records. In light of the news this week perhaps it’s not such a bad thing not to aspire to the top of the mountain just now. The massive growth of Parkrun, the thousands of participation athletes at events every weekend, the thriving online running communities prove that there is more to the sport than this. More depth, more spirit, more meaning than can be broken by the 0.1% at the top end.
For international athletics – it’s a long road back to credibility and I don’t know how long it will take. Perhaps they could start by investing properly in an independent global anti-doping capability not run by the countries whom it would exist to police rather than the current financial lip service and self-policing approach destined to fail. I’m pretty sure there will be much more bad news before it starts to turn good. This is not about the 2016 Olympics or the next World Championships – its about a cultural change that might take a generation to enact; when young athletes don’t countenance cheating as the consequences and likelihood of being caught are too great. It will take leadership and transparency that is not yet in place to guide the sport through the dark days.
No doubt, I’ll be watching with interest. But at the same time – I’ll still be running too. I won’t be worried about whether my opponents are juicing or not – just chasing the same old PBs and goals – racing against myself (the one person you definitely can’t outrun by doping). I suggest you do the same.