IOC’s ‘spineless’ attitude proves last straw for disillusioned Hartmann
Former Irish team physio forgoing opportunity to work at Olympics Games in Rio
Ger Hartmann with Sonia O’Sullivan. Photograph: Brian Gavin/Press 22
After six consecutive Olympics, Ger Hartmann has had enough. Let the Games begin, he says, glad he’ll be nowhere near them. For months now Hartmann had been toying with the idea of being in Rio: he’d essentially built his career around the Olympics, starting out as a physical therapist in Barcelona 1992, working with the Irish team in Atlanta 1996 and London four years ago, plus the British Olympic team in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing.
“The appetite had been waning over the last year, and the passion was definitely gone,” says Hartmann, who was scheduled to work with the Irish medical team in Rio. “Maybe it is part of ageing too, but I feel so much of the innocence of sport is now lost, especially when it comes to the Olympics.”
Any second thoughts about not going to Rio then promptly disappeared on Sunday, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided against imposing an outright ban on Russia, despite all the evidence – and recommendations – that their scale of systematic doping had sabotaged the entire spirit of the Olympics.
“The IOC had the chance to stand behind Wada, stand up for the clean athletes, the whole ethos of the Olympics, not give in to Russia. Instead they tried to sell a pup to the world, and they failed miserably.
“People are much more discerning about these issues now, more intuitively involved in the reality of what’s happening in world of sport, through the internet, social media. So no one is buying into this nonsense. Politics won out over righteousness, and they passed the buck, less than two weeks before the Games. It’s totally irresponsibly too, knowing it took the IAAF months to make that same decision, in regard to the track and field athletes.”
Not that the politics around Rio has soured Hartmann’s past experience. As a youngster he always aspired to the Olympic ideals, and heroes, and while his success in triathlon (winning seven national titles from 1984-91) came before that event became part of the Olympics, his work as a physical therapist (which began in 1991 after a career-ending bike accident) exposed him to some old-school ideals.
“I got to work with some great champions, such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Paula Radcliffe, who I can say, hand on heart, never took performance enhancing drugs. But I simply can’t believe so much of what I’m watching anymore.
“We know now, in hindsight, about the East Germans, blood doping in Finland, that the Olympics have at times been tainted like this before. The difference now is that the IOC, for the first time, had a golden opportunity to make a stand on this, to make the decision that everyone knows is morally right, ethically right, that they weren’t going to tolerate drugs anymore. Now was the time to make a stand, only they proved to be spineless.
“It shows as well that that athletes will always be the pawns, because when it comes down to the Olympics, it’s still all about power, politics, and money.”
Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey, also an IOC executive board member, is, Hartmann suggests, simply playing that political game as well. “I’ve known Pat Hickey a long time, and he is passionate about sport, and the Olympic movement, but ultimately he’s got to follow the mandate given by the IOC, and whatever part Vladimir Putin was playing in that too.
“But my feelings on this go back to the last year or so, before the IOC decision. I can count on one hand the number of races I watched at last year’s World Athletics Championships in Beijing. And if you think back to London, okay the organisation was top class, the British people put on a great show, made it successful, but if you consider the number of positive drug tests since, they were actually one of the dirtiest Olympics.
“The IOC had that opportunity to make a big statement, only they dropped the baton, spectacularly, and the world sees it for exactly that.”
Instead of setting up a temporary practice with the Irish team in Rio, Hartmann won’t be moving from his sports injury clinic at the University of Limerick: “I know I can look at the Irish team in Rio and genuinely believe every single one of them are clean, that there’s no questions to be asked about any of them, with regard to performance enhancing drugs. But unfortunately for them, many of them will end competing against athletes we know have taken drugs in the past, and quite possibly still are.”