Falmouth, Ma.- Given that there’s any wider interest remaining in athletics (track & field in the USA) now that an IAAF whistle blower has shown the sport to be deeply corrupted and filled with line erasers and out right cheats, the question is how best to contour its future as the IAAF World Championships harken in Bejing, China and the governing body votes in a new president?
“Football, for some reason, when you get popped for drugs you get a couple games penalty,” said Hawi Keflezighi, brother/agent of Meb, the 2014 Boston Marathon champion. “But it doesn’t change anyone’s endorsement deals. It’s like in running the same rules don’t apply.”
I was speaking with Hawi at the NB Falmouth Road Race press conference, as Meb will compete Sunday in the 43rd edition of the great American road race. Representatives like Hawi have to go into the market to champion their athletes where the biggest difficulty, he says, is the public perception that everyone is dirty.
“When in fact people are making the choice to be clean,” lamented Hawi. “So they get hit two times. First, the cheaters take the prize money and appearance fees. Then the public perception is that everybody is guilty, anyway.”
One way to handle that, he suggested, is to release the names of those athletes who have suspiciously high blood values, and then allow them to explain the circumstances which could naturally lead lead to those elevated values.
“The burden of proof shifts, said Hawi. “That way the public perception that everyone is using is addressed to some degree. It is simply not fair the way it is, because when the names are not released, it’s too easy for fans and the public to assume the majority are not clean. At some point something has to be done to relieve the sport and the clean athletes of that unfair burden.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Frank Shorter’s first win at Falmouth, a win against budding rival Bill Rodgers that served as a booster rocket for the initial running boom.
After a touching recollection of his first visit to Falmouth as an impressionable 15 year-old, Frank sat and chatted about the drug issue, a cause that has been close to his heart for decades now.
“When USADA and WADA first began -and they were the first entities to understand that you can’t promote and police the sport simultaneously – the supposition was that if you’re not willing to work behind-the-scenes, then you really didn’t want to solve the problem.
(Former AAU, TAC and USATF CEO) “Ollan Cassell published a book “Inside the Olympic Rings”. He was at a meeting in LA where it was decided only 12 (drug) positives would be announced. So they created a lousy system full of loopholes that made it easy to look like they were doing something.”
There are some, like 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya, now a member of the Kenyan parliament, who would like to impose legal rather than federation level sanctions on drug cheats.
“Normally,the statute of limitations begins went fraud is discovered,” said Shorter, “rather than when it’s committed. But the most recent Lance Armstrong investigation has done away with that. We see more and more events suing athletes to get their money back. They won’t get it, but technically drug cheating is a felony. It’s just the sport has not chosen to deal with it as such.
“But I think it’s coming around. If Sebastian Coe (running for IAAF presidency against Russia’s Sergey Bubka) truly outsources all testing to an independent agency, and that model has been around since 2000, I’ll support anyone who’s for that.”
Maybe the difference in how sports are regarded is due to athletics being seen as the centerpiece of the sacrosanct Olympics, where the purity of the contest is still held in higher esteem than today’s pro team sports.
In any case, simply releasing the fact that X number of athletes either re-tested positive at some past competition – as we heard this week from the IAAF in regard the 2005 & 2007 World Championships – or have been shown to have elevated blood values – which the German ARD TV documentary and Sunday Times revealed via a leaked IAAF list – by not linking those findings to specific names only perpetuates the debilitating assumption that all champions or good performances are tainted.
Certainly casting doubt on someone who may be clean is one downside of any new transparent policy. But the current no-names policy has proven injurious to the health and state of the sport as a whole. After decades of being the poster child for drug use in all sport, at some point that health must become the primary concern.