Tuesday, August 4, 2015

V. 5 N. 68 PED's, Getting on the Soapbox

I'm sitting here this morning working on a new posting for the 1965 AAU meet which Roy has sent my way.   Our methodology for these entries is as follows:   Roy, in Ukiah, CA,  writes the synopsis of the event as culled from the pages of the July, or is it August, 1965  issue of Track and Field News.  Only Roy has the skills to do this.  I would be befuddled to even attempt such a writing task.   Roy sends it on to Steve Price in Piqua, Ohio to proofread.   The product is then sent to me in Courtenay, BC to add pictures and maybe some comments.  When you look for a picture of a given athlete, often a good story is part of where that picture came from, so that provides me material to add in to the story.   I have the Google Blog account,  which allows me to put all the copy and pictures online to send out to you and to make available to readers around the world.  Truly this is read in over sixty countries each month.  If we make a reference to a runner or jumper from the Ukraine,  we notice that readership goes up in that country.  Same for New Zealand, France, Germany and the like.  However there seems to be a strong daily readership in China and a few other unexpected places.  Maybe just the sheer number of people in China inflates our readership from that country.

Now to get to our headline today on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's),  one may wonder why most of the time we dwell on the past in this blog.  Hey we're old guys, and most of our readers are over 60, so that's what we know more about.   The sport has become very inflated with large numbers of fast, strong  athletes than it was 50 years ago.  The depth in every event today is mind boggling.  Putting the money out there to be won, has obviously encouraged a greater number of elite participants and of course has encouraged cheating.  Since the first guy went to the line to race against his neighbor, people have  been looking for an edge.  It's just that now there are so many peripheral individuals trying to make a living off athletes that cheating has become such a prominent part of the sport.   We used to complain in the 60s that the rich old fogies like Avery Brundage, Dan Ferris, and many others at the helm of the AAU were abusing athletes by imposing a draconian amateurism philosophy on the sport, and a subsequent revolt took place to allow athletes at first to get reasonable expense money to go to meets.   But there still was not much out there to let them make a living from the sport.  The guys that stayed with the sport into their late twenties, early thirties were also making a living in another field.  I'm sure this made for a more well balanced individual than is the case these days.  I cannot imagine only training and racing, and texting all day.  I do know of a few young people who are working in their professions and competing, but they are few and far between and they are not among the elite.

So as we moved into the 80s and the sport became more commercially marketable, we began to see a lot more doping beyond the occasional distance runner rumour and the not so clandestine doping by weightmen.    In the 80s I heard stories that the USOC was looking the other way when US athletes tested positive for drugs that would mask the use of illegal drugs.  It was game on.  Of course the East Germans and Soviets had institutionalized doping by then, but there was no supposed overseer to boot them out of the sport.  Once the wall fell in 1989 it became openly documented how the East Germans had been playing the game.  The East Germans had kept records just like the Nazis, so the evidence was there.  In the West, since the doping was not encouraged and controlled by the State, the evidence was easier to cover up.  In 1988 the Ben Johnson affair made it quite evident that the western athletes were as guilty as the eastern bloc, but they did it on an individual basis rather than a state controlled basis.   It's been said that the risk of getting caught was less than the opportunity to make some money.   Of course only a few actually made some money.  Johnson had a million dollar contract with a clothing manufacturer  Diadora , which was rescinded because of his getting caught.  He was led down this path by a leech of a coach who also stood to cash in on Johnson's success.

Next the influx of African talent displaced many of the great European and American runners.  The Kenyans were most likely clean and benefited from some genetic and lifestyle advantages over the western athletes, not to mention the incentive of making a few dollars which went a much longer way in their economies compared to what translated to income in the West.  Now the Kenyans' honesty is being called into question.   The need to get chemical help is there, because still only a few can actually make a good living from track and field, so to assure one has a chance, he or she must go to the pharmacy cabinet.  Some of the Middle Eastern countries with no history of athletic tradition are buying athletes from Kenya because of that nation's surplus.   Also the refugee movement in some African countries has ended up in Nordic countries with citizen athletes whose origin is Africa.  Same can be said for the US who also bought and sold Africans two hundred years ago in a more diabolical way.

The public and the media can also be accused in this modern charade of athletics when   the sport is manipulated by media conglomerates, Olympic programming, glamour and sales of sports shoes, clothing, and accessories.  Hundreds of thousands of joggers buy millions of dollars of equipment and spend enormous amounts of dollars for event entry fees to feel like they are champion athletes.  And the monster grows.

So we old diehards sit in our easy chairs , too old, creaky and cranky to get out there anymore to give those boys and girls their comeuppance.

Now that the IAAF and WADA and some other 'supervisory bodies' have begun an introspective look at their own shortcomings, maybe a slightly new course will be taken.  However old institutions and board directors and well paid minions do not give up power easily. So it is fairly unlikely there will be a major overhaul of those well entrenched institutions.   Even a change of leadership at the top coming from an election of a new IAAF president is no guarantee of a major change in the institution.  Obama couldn't do it, so how could Bubka or Coe?  They are too much a part of the system.  I can't think of any world bodies that could ever carry out a sophisticated revamping of a world wide problem.  The IAAF is much like the UN, a worldwide membership run by a bunch of elite individuals  who enjoy being there rubbing elbows with their social equivalents.   However the power is in a few countries with the money to push their agendas.   The UN couldn't stop a genocide in a small, concentrated area like Rwanda.   The IAAF will not be able to stop or slow down an epidemic of drug abuse in track and field.   My sympathies are with the honest people in the sport, but I can never be sure who they are.

So how to go forward?    I've mentioned this to several people with mixed responses, but it's the only thing I can think of that might work.     I'm sure however that plenty of people thinking up ways of dealing with the problem will find some better way of solving it.  If you have an idea, we'll publish it, just send it to the commentaries at the end of this page.

My Solution:
All events will have two groups of athletes,  Group A (No testing)  and Group B (Heavy Testing).  

Group A athletes will go to the line with whatever they want to put into their bodies.  They sign a waiver that they don't care what harm may come to them by using PED's.  They will never be banned from the sport and their resultant medical  and/or funeral expenses will be covered by the IAAF

Group B athletes will be tested regularly.   If they test positive, they will be banned for life from competing with other Group B athletes.   They will be moved to group A.  However since they chose to lie about what they were doing, they will be required to pay back up to 80% of what they earned as Group B athletes before they can compete in Group A.   Some of their winnings will have to be held in escrow in case they get caught in the lie.

For the Americans:
All university athletes will be in Group B.  If they test positive, they will be banned from competing in University but be allowed to go to Group A.   They will not lose their scholarships and be allowed to attend university for four years at their athletic department's expense.  That will put a lot of pressure on the universities to run clean programs.

So, please feel free to blast away.

I'm still chewing on your latest well written soapbox blip. I am not sure your proposal would work but have heard nothing better. The fallout of all this might be something to ponder as other sports may or may not follow track's example. The NCAA will pretty much do as they please. In other countries, our sport is run by a federation so they have more "control" over the individual athlete. 

Steve Price

Roy adds some interesting perspectives to my thesis.   I can see that the committee will be analyzing and debating these issues for some time to come.

"Creaky and cranky", great line, George.  

    Obviously there is no easy answer to this.  I like your A and B system, but here is the problem I see as a spectator.  The "A" guys aren't cheats.  They are what they are and we have created a system whereby the only competitive advantage they might have is a superior pharmacist.  No aspersions will be cast.  Whether they will  run in separate meets or concurrently as in the B mile at 2:05 pm  and the A mile at 2:15 pm, is but a minor detail to be worked out.  The question is, as a fan, what division do I want to watch?  Do I want to see a 3:41 mile or a 3:50 mile?,  a 18.98 200 or a 19.87 200?  Compare that to men's and women's races now.  As much as I love the women's competition, if I have the choice of watching a men's or women's 800. PV or steeplechase, I'll pick the men every time.  I think this holds true in nearly all sports,  NBA or WNBA?  Let's check the TV ratings.   The same would be true of the A's and B's.  Do I want to watch the varsity or the JV's?

    The financial situation is another aspect.  Where do Nike, Adidas, New Balance, etc. invest their dollars?  Do they sponsor A runners or B runners?  Both maybe, but my thinking is that they will go with whichever draws the larger crowd and the highest TV ratings.  If that is the A division, the B's would be like the minor leagues in baseball, fun to watch but not the cachet of the major leagues.

    And then we get to the Olympics.  If we keep them "clean", well and good, but would they have the status they have now?  The winner of the shot put throws 74' but his feat is diminished by the 15 guys regularly over 80' in the A division.  Would we have an A Olympics and a B Olympics?  Obviously with any of this, problems outnumber solutions.
    An afterthought: The A league could save T&F with a huge infusion of money.   Nike and Adidas couldn't pay athletes the kind of money Pfizer, Lilly or Novartis would shell out.  Johnson and Johnson could pay athletes like NBA players.  The  A athletes would be living proof that whatever the pharmaceutical they were using, was effective.   "That dude just ran 41.5.  I'm getting that stuff tomorrow."  A Nike athlete wins but can you really say it was because he wore Nike?  With drugs, there would be empirical  evidence.  The guy hitting the tape first has Bristol-Myers Squibb on his shirt.

From George
My kickback on this is as soon as Big Pharma gets involved and supporting teams of dopers, they'll want to start making rules about how much an 'athlete' can ingest before a meet etc. and it will cut out Bernie down at the trailer park who has discovered how to produce the best boost known to man.  Then we'll be calling the cheats cheats.   The problem here is that the American public truly wants to be deceived.  We want to believe in fairies and avatars and 3:32 milers.

As to which race the public will  want to watch, pay TV will figure that one out for us and the market will prevail.  I guess there's no sane solution.  We  at Once Upon a Time in the Vest will continue to dwell on the past.

1 comment:

Richard Trace said...

And......they're off!!

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