We are a society which purports to endorse rehabilitation. So why do we condemn those who have fallen afoul of strict doping regulations?by Isabelle Westbury / August 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Sport has no script. That’s its beauty – the uncertainty, the ecstasy, even the disappointment. So for Lord Coe, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, to describe Saturday’s 100m men’s final as “not the perfect script,” was tonally bizarre, if nothing else. The IAAF, after all, is alleged to have run its own questionable stage-play in the recent past—controlling and covering up doping violations of certain athletes.
However the booing which greeted the race’s victor went beyond an upset script; Usain Bolt was not only beaten, but beaten by Justin Gatlin, who has twice served bans for anti-doping violations. That he now undergoes as rigorous a testing procedure as Bolt, or any other competitor, was apparently irrelevant. So was the fact that Gatlin’s bans were halved on appeal, and that he now regularly educates young athletes on the perils of doping.
Gatlin’s reception was the product of something much deeper, fuelled largely by a capricious media interested mainly in creating sensationalist, often jingoistic, sporting coverage for a narrative which suits them. The irony of Steve Cram, former 1500m world champion turned coach-cum-pundit, lounging on a sofa and explaining that “the British media, ourselves included, have educated the public a little bit about Justin Gatlin and his past,” as justification for Gatlin’s reception, was countered by eight-time world champion Michael Johnson’s reasoned response.
“Explain the difference between him and the others,” Johnson challenged, referring to those also now competing again, having formerly been convicted of anti-doping violations. These others include Johann Blake and Luvo Manyonga—the latter feted after overcoming a cocaine addiction to win long jump gold. Manyonga is considered a success story; Gatlin apparently anything but. “I think that we have done a poor job of educating,” Johnson countered. “As we created a story that was not accurate.”
No tribunal found that Justin Gatlin used performance-enhancing drugs. The circumstances surrounding the violations may appear suspicious, but when it comes to findings of fact, Gatlin has fallen foul only of the strict liability offence that any infringement brings—whether intentional, inadvertent or simply technical.
While the system punishes those such as the serial, and intentional, doper Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his Olympic gold in the 1988 men’s 100m, it punishes less cut-and-dry cases, too. The headlines scream “drug cheat,”…