Doping casts long shadow over sport - especially track and field
TIPPING POINT:For someone regarded as flaky during her playing pomp, Martina Navratilova has matured into a woman wise enough to point out that disability is a matter of perception: the tennis legend’s point being if you can do just one thing well, then you’re valuable to someone.
The athletic achievements of Oscar Pistorius make him priceless to millions around the globe. He symbolises how much a dogged refusal to be categorised by disability can overcome. All of which brings into even more stark contrast the tawdry awfulness of what’s happening in Pretoria.
There is enough barely concealed relish of the events of 11 days ago, when Reeva Steenkamp was killed, to make any more comment seem more than a little invasive. And in the context of personal tragedy, the contents of two little jars found in Pistorius’s bedroom are irrelevant. Violent death has a way of making the results of freely-entered into activity a small cause for concern.
But hands up those of you who heard those reports of testosterone and needles and weren’t surprised? Disappointed maybe, disillusioned perhaps, but not surprised.
Actually the first reports were of steroids, then testosterone. Then came reports they were a herbal remedy. Last night, South African media were reporting the bottles contained a herbal stimulant, to boost sexual energy. Athletes, though, are advised not to take it since it can boost testosterone levels.
So knowing nods about doping may wind up being desperately unfair on Pistorius. But right now, whatever the wrongs and rights, everyone gets swept along in the tsunami of weary cynicism about doping in sport.
So much so that some of the condemnation of American heavyweight fighter Tony Thompson’s opinion last week that sportspeople should be allowed dope if they want to felt like going through the motions. Especially since Thompson aired his views with the always attractive virtue of not appearing to take himself, or what he does, too seriously.
“All of the money that we’re using to catch cheats should be used for other things. This is sports. This is not insider trading. This is not eliminating hunger in the world,” he said. “It’s just sports . . . It’s a person’s choice, such as abortion and other things we don’t agree with.”
Of course attraction doesn’t always equal substance. For one thing there is athlete health to consider when it comes to doping, although the oft-quoted stat of athletes willing to swap early death for success makes it hard to be charitable sometimes. More importantly though, take Thompson’s view to its logical conclusion and sport turns into meaningless spectacle. And while competition might always be trivial, it should never be irrelevant.
However, disillusionment with doping means the boxer’s candour makes it hard to pillory him too much as a bogey man. Too many other sportspeople have piously said one thing and done another.