Nations have been turning citizens into soldiers for as long as anyone can remember.  And over time, no matter the nation, the process hasn’t changed a great deal, as it has proven tried and true.

First, the military breaks down the individual recruits – cutting off their hair, dressing them alike, housing them together in close quarters – in order to build a cohesive unit.  Then they teach precision through constant drilling until a finely tuned military force has been forged.

One of the first lessons in unit cohesion is everyone is responsible for everyone else. And if one makes a mistake, all pay the price. For instance, if one recruit decides he doesn’t want to take a shower every day in boot camp, it eventually falls to the other recruits to drag him to the showers for a late night cold water scrubbing with a hard bristled brush. It is not the drill sergeant who does this, it is the rank recruit’s own fellow privates.  That cold-water scrubbing tends to get the message across. If one recruit screws up in training, the entire platoon does extra pushups or low crawl. Eventually, life for the screw-up is made intolerable by his fellow recruits until he gets his act in order.

Bringing this analogy into the world of athletics, until the athletes themselves take some responsibility to deal with their own in this matter of doping,  the situation will never be resolved.  Every athlete only wants to train and race, total focus.  And that is fully understandable.  But that only works if the sport is in good health, and this one is not.

This week, following the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England – where a number of Russian athletes competed under a neutral banner while the rest of the federation was banned – the IAAF Council accepted a recommendation from the IAAF Taskforce not to reinstate the Russian Athletics Federation.  At that council meeting, IAAF president Sebastian Coe expressed frustration with the lack of closure that continues to hold Russian compliance in limbo.  The following was quote of the day from an InsidetheGames article covering the IAAF Council meeting.

“We can’t just sit here if there are still gaps in the verification criteria forever and a day. It is a costly and time consuming process. Unless dramatic progress is made and we genuinely hope it is being made, we will have to review in our Council meeting in July, the status of the [Russian] neutral competitors and the potential for the Congress to decide upon the ultimate sanction, which is expulsion. It is in nobody’s interest to be sitting here in no man’s land. There is no ambiguity about the criteria and the criteria was agreed. We want the country and their athletes back, but we want the world to be in a position to trust.”

For their part, Russian officials have repeatedly said they will not accept the IAAF TaskForce findings, leaving the matter of reinstatement at loggerheads.

As we have seen, the ongoing doping scandals that have defined this sport for so long seem intractable by the current governing model.  And while the IAAF is no longer under criminal leadership, it isn’t exactly 99 44/100ths Ivory Soap pure either, as its current president Lord Coe stands accused of misleading a British parliamentary inquiry about what and when he knew of Russian doping allegations.  And allowing certain Russian athletes unaligned with their federation to compete in Birmingham under a neutral banner only obfuscates the problem.

Laura Muir (l) and Sifan Hassan (r) bracket 1500 & 3000 gold medalist Genzebe Dibaba at World Indoors   (Getty Images)

We also saw in Birmingham how minor medalists Laura Muir (GBR) and Sifan Hassan (NED) snubbed gold medalist Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) on the 1500m award podium for her association with Coach Jama Aden who was arrested in a hotel outside Barcelona in June 2016 as part of a joint anti-doping operation conducted by Catalan police, the IAAF, and the Spanish anti-doping agency. That small gesture of disregard by two athletes against another was a start, but like army recruits looking to clean up their barracks, it has to go deeper.

In 2018, the IAAF is adopting a new worldwide ranking system that mirrors that of golf and tennis.  But what those sports have that athletics doesn’t have is a professional athletes’ association, the PGA and ATP.  At some point, it has to be the athletes themselves who act out, not just speak out.  As long as the athletes continue to allow outside agencies to be their only form of governance, they will continue to be frustrated pawns in a game in which they are the pieces but not the players.

Only when enough athletes stand as one, will the sport will begin to scrub itself clean.



  1. I find it saddening that older athletes from earlier eras aren’t forthcoming about what they saw and knew about ‘back in the day’ (George Malley, thank you for being as open as you were a couple of years ago about Athletics West), because “let sleeping dogs lie”, and current elites are deathly afraid–fairly or not–about any repercussions that might come their way for telling the truth.Everybody seems to have a good reason for NOT blowing the lids off The Problem’.

  2. Well said, Toni!
    Professional Counselors about dysfunctional families recommend that the parents have to be “frank, friendly, and firm” in dealing with incorrigible kids.

    I think that both the IOC and the IAAF have to treat Russia as a teenager that chronically breaks the rules and has no conscience or feels no responsibility toward the family unit. They only care about themselves and their own personal gratification.

    I am ashamed of how quickly the IOC gave Russia back member status immediately after the Olympic Games were over last month…and I hope that Thomas Bach eventually loses his job over this.

    Say what you will about the IAAF and Seb Coe… at least they have the balls and gumption to stand up to Russia/Putin and firmly demand that they honor ALL of the points requested of them for complete re-entry into the IAAF family and the World Championships and Summer Olympic Games. Russia must admit their guilt and then take all steps required by IAAF and WADA to open up their main testing lab to unannounced scrutiny 24/7 or else they should continue to be put on probation and possibly full expulsion if they don’t cooperate COMPLETELY with very much common sense requirements for the rest of the world to believe that their athletes will not have a distinct PED advantage in future championships or world record attempts.

    Stick to your guns, Seb….. “friendly but frank…. AND FIRM!!!” as that is the only language that Russia/Putin fully understand. I’m sorry for any truly innocent top athletes unfairly punished by this….but maybe they can help leverage their respective NGB’s and home country to cooperate better. I see this as the only answer to the present dilemma.

    1. And, Mr. Lillis, does make an excellent point….the IAAF has been guilty in the past of “looking the other way” or “footdragging” in the world wide battle against PED usage by T & F athletes/national federations…and they could rightfully be called hypocrites by most corners of journalism…. But, at least Coe & Co. are sticking to their guns (this time) regarding readmitting Russia back into “normal IAAF member status” which is something that the IOC has failed to do this past week. Hopefully, Seb Coe and the IAAF has learned a few lessons from their recent painful past. Only time will tell…. but, they deserve a pat on the back this time…. and the IOC needs to have their butts spanked (once again) for not being more “frank, friendly, and firm” with Russia. If Bach & Associates and the IOC cannot get up enough gumption to stand up to Putin… then we need to find somebody who will!

  3. Sorry…I have followed your posts with a great deal of appreciation in the recent past!
    But this is far too superficial without a full, forensic analysis of the failed oversight from the IAAF president over all aspects of the doping scenarios in his sport.

    … comment from you about the UK house committee comments on the Presidents “implausible” posturing on these scandals and cover ups?

    And more to come….

      1. Thanks! Finely put…but two years on from this, given the tacit complicity that the House report implies, who can clean the whole of this swamp?

      2. Ah! I re read your trenchant 2016 paper, for which again congratulations. My comment on it, jan 7 2016, mirrors my comments on your recent analysis. Plus ca change…but the Presidents closed eyes and mind may well, of course, ,have loftier ..and equally dangerous, ambitions, we may fear!

  4. All good points, Toni. Therefore, the next logical question is, how can a professional athletes’ association be formed?

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