World sport losing credibility

2013-05-04 00:00

JUST how murky has the world of sport become? Several stories have surfaced this last week to indicate that some professional sports might be heading for the sort of reputation that hitherto belonged to such pursuits as dog racing and boxing, which have long been regarded with suspicion and cynicism even by their followers.

Many people were hoping that the trial in Spain of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes might throw some light on the extent to which doping has pervaded sports other than cycling. They have been disappointed by the verdict which included an order to destroy all the evidence obtained against the guilty doctor.

Fuentes was found guilty of endangering public health by giving blood transfusions to elite cyclists and sentenced to a one-year suspended jail term, but the magistrate frustrated anti-doping officials by ruling that all evidence relating to the case, including blood bags and computers, would be destroyed.

Investigators from the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) wanted to examine the blood bags that were seized from Dr Fuentes in order to identify athletes from a number of different sports who used Fuentes’s services as a blood-doping expert.

Fuentes admitted helping athletes to dope but could only be tried on public health offences because doping was not illegal in Spain when his clinic was raided in 2006. He testified during his trial that his customers included athletes from football, tennis, athletics and boxing. Despite this testimony, none of his customers from those sports has been named.

Wada had hoped that by using the latest scientific methods they would be able to use the blood bags obtained during the investigation of Fuentes to identify which athletes had benefited from using his services.

In view of the amazing success of Spanish athletes in football, tennis and athletics during this last decade, it is not surprising that many prominent sportsmen and women from other countries had been hoping that the Fuentes trial would reveal the names of those competitors who have crossed the doping line. Unless an appeal against the magistrate’s ruling about the destruction of evidence is successful, it seems certain that the hopes of these athletes will be frustrated, amongst whom Andy Murray has been particularly outspoken.

Murray has described the verdict in the Fuentes case as “the biggest cover up in sport’s history” and says he cannot understand why anyone would want the blood bags to be destroyed. The magistrate in the case said that her decision on the evidence destruction was based on grounds of privacy which is kind of understandable but one would have thought that the wider public interest would be better served if the truths of the sordid matter were allowed to emerge.

I have long thought that tennis, with its lax doping regime, was likely to have been involved in incidents of doping and that the rise of so many Spanish players with outstanding powers of endurance was not entirely a coincidence. It is not easy to forget that Spain is the current holder of the Soccer World Cup and has had a number of recent Davis Cup successes.

It may be that an appeal against the order to destroy the blood bags in the Fuentes case is successful but privacy is a touchy issue in the courts of many countries so hopes should not be held too high. Retribution, however, will almost certainly await Spain in the event of an unsuccessful appeal. Madrid is hoping to hold the 2020 Olympics. Widespread dissatisfaction over the Fuentes trial could well result in a resounding and deserved “no” against Madrid.

Another depressing story is the latest effort by Board of Control for Cricket in India (henceforth known only in this column as the BCCI) to enhance their control over cricket. It has long been a source of frustration to the Indians that their control of the game has not been absolute.

The pesky cricket committee, on which two representatives of the international players sit, keep churning out recommendations that the Indians dislike, most notably the Decision Review System (DRS).

One player on this committee is Kumar Sangakkara, the world-class batsman and articulate lawyer. The other is Tim May, the former Australian off spinner. With Kumar often on Test duty, it has fallen to May to garner the opinions of the best players in the world. By all accounts he has done a splendid job in doing so and the ICC’s cricket committee has been alert and proactive in responding to the game’s changing scene.

Now, however, May is under threat from the BCCI whose lust for power knows no end. The two players on the ICC committee are elected by the votes of the 10 Test captains. The BCCI put up Laxman Sivaramakrishman to stand against May. Laxman is better known as a commentator who seems to be a permanent fixture on Indian television. He is also employed by the Chenai Super Kings, which is the IPL franchise owned by the president of the BCCI. Conflicts of interest know no bounds in Indian cricket.

The Test captains voted 9-1 in favour of Tim May. The BCCI, however, does not enjoy displays of democracy that interfere with their own interests. In short order, the BCCI convinced the boards of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan to “persuade” their captains to change their votes.

This was enough to ensure a 5-5 deadlock at the last recount. To their credit, CSA told the BCCI that they had no authority to compel Graeme Smith to change his vote. Thus far Darren Sammy, the captain of the Windies, has resisted pressure to fall in with the BCCI party line. If he eventually succumbs, the BCCI will be seen to control even the opinions of the world’s players. What this might mean is difficult to foresee but the DRS could be a casualty despite its general acceptance amongst the vast bulk of players, spectators and officials.

The days when cricket was controlled from Lords are nothing more than a gentle memory of another age.

• RAY White is a former president of the South African cricket board

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