Drug problem is the elephant in the athletics room

2014-11-23 15:00

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If it wants to command the same respect as sport’s most followed codes such as football, rugby and cricket, athletics must deal with its drug problem.

Also, athletics must reveal what its top stars earn to give aspiring athletes and potential sponsors a better idea about the business of the sport.

These are just two of the resolutions that came out of the inaugural Global Athletics Conference in Durban last weekend (see box).

The two-day gathering was facilitated by KwaZulu-Natal Athletics as part of its skills development programme.

The event attracted, among others, Kenya’s marathon champions Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang; past and present track and field athletes; local administrators and sports sponsoring companies.

The conference was facilitated by former sprint world champion and four-time Olympic medallist Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Until athletics addresses the elephant in the room [the drug problem], things will not change,” said Boldon, a respected track and field TV analyst.

“People like Marion Jones [the disgraced former world and Olympic sprint champion] comes to mind. They rob so many clean athletes, and the damage that her doping did to the sport is one of the reasons we have this kind of conference.”

Boldon said the sport must be presented to the world in such a way that “it’s not just being viewed with the love and respect we have for it every four years when it becomes the cornerstone of the Olympic Games, but every single year between it as well”.

Boldon said one of the many ways to curb doping was to make cheaters return their prize money.

“There is a need to have some form of document that must be signed by athletes that says that if they get caught, they must pay back the [prize] money.”

In the most recent doping scandal, Kenyan two-time Chicago Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo had tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) in an out-of-competition test in September, just weeks before her second win in the Chicago Marathon.

EPO is the same blood-boosting drug that has cast a dark shadow over cycling in recent years.

How to take the sport forward

Following a dialogue between current and former athletes, administrators and sponsors, these were some of the resolutions that were taken at the inaugural Global Athletics Conference:

»?Athletics needs to deal with its drug problem.

»?Stars have to look and sound the part – athletes don’t come across well on camera and they must be taught how to present themselves properly in media interviews.

»?Cast the development net wide – you never know where your next champion will come from. A recent example is Kenya (traditionally a long-distance powerhouse), which had Julius Yego winning a gold medal in the javelin at this year’s Commonwealth Games. Sprinter hub Trinidad and Tobago have also produced Olympic javelin champion Keshorn Walcott.

»?School and youth focus – the Jamaican high school championships was used as an exemplary model.

»?Restaging competitions to unify athletes and engage fans. Respected marathon commentator Toni Reavis suggested a team format for professional track and field disciplines and road racing similar to the one used by US high schools and colleges.

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