Road to Moscow honours paved with humbug and hypocrisy
‘Everyone knows the credibility of top-level athletics is shot’
Tyson Gay: former world sprint champion was vociferously anti-doping for years. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
With the world’s top athletes on the road to Moscow this weekend, some road resurfacing rather closer to home is a reminder of how covering your arse remains officialdom’s ultimate lingua-franca no matter where you are.
If a sign proclaiming “No Road Markings Ahead” actually enlightens any driver to the blindingly obvious in front of them, it could be suggested they shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car in the first place.
But protective enlightenment is hardly the purpose of a piece of county council bum protection designed to deter marauding solicitors. It is there because putting it there looks good on headed paper; pristine, proper, legally bulletproof – a triumph of appearance over reality.
It’s tempting on the back of so much recent civic and political evidence to view the arse cover as a particularly Irish speciality, but the reality is that officialdom’s facility for imposing sheens of squeaky-clean propriety over stupidity and incompetence is a universal phenomenon.
Everyone knows the credibility of top-level athletics is shot. To suggest otherwise is to insult people’s intelligence. Anyone tuning into the IAAF World Championshps in Moscow – and won’t the telly figures be interesting – who doesn’t possess at least some doubt at what’s happening before them really should be hunted for conservation purposes. And anyone swallowing the official platitudes probably shouldn’t be allowed wander from their incubator under any circumstances.
Cynical political reality
The fact the championships are being held in Moscow alone is a sign of how cynical the political reality is underneath the obligatory piety about tackling a doping culture which is overwhelming the sport.
Nearly 50 Russian athletes are serving doping bans. A governing class serious about cleaning up the doping culture, which has put athletics alongside cycling as a byword for sleaziness, might balk at rewarding a country in possession of such an unenviable drugs record with a championship. But that’s to take their press-release speak at face value.
It’s not just Russia either. Any country with a notably bad doping record might reasonably expect to face substantial penalties, fines, maybe even suspension. Such a state might even have the good grace to at least keep schtum when it comes to bidding for a major championship. Yet Istanbul is in the running to be granted the 2020 Olympics by the IOC next month.
Turkey’s recent doping history is more rank than most and, socially, it is hardly Montmartre in its solidity. But who cares when it’s got money and sits on a European-Asian divide which makes it an ideal candidate in terms political expediency.
It’s a characteristic of the cynic to point out how cynicism doesn’t change anything. Daring to dream makes the difference we’re told in that carefully ambivalent language which makes it impossible to call the politico on what they vaguely commit to in any concrete fashion, but which leaves no one in doubt of the pervasive aroma of Grade A bullshit.
And yes, cynicism isn’t very attractive. But only the hopelessly naive can look at athletics right now, peer past the corporate-backed slogans and not suspect that quite a large dollop of scepticism, at least, is a requisite first step in confronting the doping reality. And not the official-speak version which posits that because a few high-profile cheats have been caught, the system is working.
It isn’t. Have I definitive, swear-on-something-religious proof of that? Have I Mick Bailey. Those fighting at the doping coal face haven’t proof either.
It’s hardly the nature of the beast to be obvious. But they know alright. And so do those operating in the world of administrative arse-covering; except they also know how their own game works.
Tyson Gay knows. The former world sprint champion was vociferously anti-doping for years and an official spokesman for the US Anti-Doping Agency’s “My Victory – I Compete Clean” campaign. Gay was poster-boy material: “I compete clean because I believe in fairness. And besides that, my mom would kill me.”
It’s too easy a shot to point out how proud mom must be now that Gay has tested positive. But it’s always worthwhile highlighting the discrepancy between what’s out there for public consumption and what’s often the more squalid reality.
Asafa Powell was a notable anti-doping campaigner too, spinning the spiel about how positive tests enhance the credibility of anti-doping programmes. Or at least he did until it came to his own. And then it was the fault of someone in his “circle”, the ubiquitous buck-passing blame game in these situations.
Bridging the credibility gap that exists between athletics and the public is a massive task and one that requires a depth of character at the administrative wheel willing to go far beyond what is expedient.
And there are clearly some within the top brass of world athletics who are serious about doing that. But it’s hard to avoid being sceptical and concluding that plenty others are content to keep climbing the greasy administrative pole, concentrating on merely maintaining an appearance of probity, while all the time directing top-class athletics further towards irrelevance.