WHO HAS TO FIGHT THE LAW?

i_fought_the_law_by_norealityallowedWhile the clock tells no lies, neither does it ask any questions. Instead it merely records our passing in cold indifference. And so in athletics’ ongoing fight to rid itself of the scourge of fraudulent performance the question arises, where does the responsibility for actually giving a damn lie? And, is drug testing in and of itself enough to achieve the goal?

I ask because based on the evidence of continued PED use, and the institutional corruption that allowed and benefited from it, one might conclude that the intended deterrence has not been achieved, and that some other stick or carrot may be required.

That thought was brought to mind yesterday while watching Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions appear at his confirmation hearing before Congress as Attorney General designate.  During one exchange Senator Sessions said the following in response to whether fraudulent speech is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“Fraudulent speech, if it amounts to an attempt to obtain a thing of value for the person making the fraudulent speech, is absolutely fraud, and can be prosecuted.”

In the case of performance-enhancing drug use the intent is specifically ‘to obtain a thing of value’, i.e. race prize money. Therefore, when a WADA doping control officer goes over the doping control official record at time of testing, a negative declaration by the tested athlete becomes, in fact, a form of speech, and therefore should be considered a prosecutable offense if subsequent testing produces a positive finding of drug use. The same ask-and-answer should be required of appropriate coaches, managers, and federation officials, as each category has been found complicit in past PED distribution. No accusations, mind you, simply covering bases. Continue reading

CORRECTING THE RECORD(S)

track-startGive them this, the IAAF, heretofore one of the premier La Cosa Nostras of international sporting organizations, has at least begun to honestly wrestle with the scourges of performance-enhancing drug abuse and bribe-fueled corruption that have brought their sport into such worldwide disrepute and public disregard.

And so we see where an open letter to IAAF head Sebastian Coe from Gianni Merlo, president of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) suggesting that the sports’ record book be scrapped and a new one be opened, received a thoughtful public response from the home office in Monaco.

A clean break from the old records isn’t a bad idea, given who knows how many of those marks were achieved on the level. But rather than just erasing the current books, here’s another way of achieving the same goal by turning the record book pages back a bit. Continue reading

VIN LANANNA ELECTED USATF PREZ. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Today, in Orlando, Florida Coach Vin Lananna was elected president of USATF, the governing body of athletics in the USA, when the other candidate for the office, three-time Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Illinois, withdrew her candidacy.  Both were among the finest candidates for the office the organization has ever had.  Both had risen to the top in their respective fields, she in athletics, he in coaching. Both are honorable people, and both have a deep and abiding love for the sport. Yet, even as the USATF family met in Orlando for its annual meeting to vote on a new leader, the question should at least be asked, is this election simply a myopic whistling past the graveyard given all the deeply cynical drug and corruption charges coming out of so many other brother and sister federations in sport worldwide?

The question of existential relevance is hardly inappropriate. Today, former Chicago Tribune writer Phil Hersh suggested a similar notion: Rot at the Core Threatens Future of Olympics.  And with the release of yet another damning investigative film by Germany’s ARD TV in conjunction with French newspaper Le Monde, Doping – Top Secret: The Protection Racket that uncovered corruption at the very highest levels of governance of the sport, it seems that for many in positions of authority the corridors of power are only greased avenues for bribery and extortion schemes. How can simply replacing the head person at USATF or even in IAAF home office really matter anymore?

There are 200+ federations that make up the IAAF. These are political fiefdoms that are run by fiat, and exist with all but no oversight, nationally or internationally.  If Washington, Jefferson, or Adams were around and involved in this sport, one might assume a Declaration of some sort might well be in preparation.  And it isn’t even that people believe in the system.  Instead they have absorbed it and learned to use it to their best interests.  I have no doubt that Jackie and Vin have the best interest of the sport as their animating mission. But that makes them the outlier in this international cabal, if inquiry and evidence be any judge. Continue reading

TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN

The International Olympic Committee is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it comes to its decision on the potential Russian Olympic ban for Rio 2016.  It’s one thing for the U.S. to lead a multi-nation boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, and for the Soviet Union to reciprocate four years later in L.A. But it is quite another for the IOC itself to say, you’re out, because who knows what may come from that?

Yet the likelihood of just such a decision was given impetus today when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the IAAF banishment of 68 Russian track and field athletes not implicated in a state-supported doping program uncovered in a series of independent investigations. The International Olympic Committee said earlier this week that it would use Thursday’s CAS ruling as a guideline on a total Russian Olympic banishment from Rio.

There is no easy solution here, and the IOC is trying to thread the needle between who it is and who it was, between just desserts and just money (cynical me). In a last ditch move Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the scrum yesterday.

‘Now we’re observing a dangerous relapse into the interference of politics in sport,” he said in a statement.  “Yes, the form of that interference has changed but the essence is the same, to make sport an instrument of geopolitical pressure and the formation of a negative image of countries and peoples.  The Olympic movement, which plays a colossal unifying role for humanity, could again wind up on the edge of schism.”

Really?  The old KGB operative is interested in a unifying movement?  Who knows. His recent annexation of Crimea sure unified some folks. But there is certainly no self-reflection about the mind-numbing corruption in his Sports Ministry, just indignity once they’ve been caught.

There are so many competing interests at play here. From a purely moral standpoint banning the entire Russian Olympic team for their uber-cynical doping program in Sochi 2014 and beyond seems like a no-brainer. Come on, let the punishment fit the crime.

But who amongst nations is innocent?  One would have thought, too, that some executives involved in the financial collapse of 2008 might have been brought before the bar and their institutions appropriately down-sized to avoid another such meltdown in the future. Yet as we soon found out too-big-to-fail meant just that. So how much weight does Russia still have left to push back with?  Continue reading

RUSSIANS BARRED FROM RIO

Fix it!

Fix it!

Holy Cow, they did it!  The IAAF voted unanimously today to bar the Russian track and field team from the Rio Olympics.  It’s an extraordinary move, for sure, but one the Russian federation almost dared the governing body to make after it was caught in a cycle of state-supported doping, the most cynical violation of the letter and spirit of fair play imaginable.

Afterwards, the Russian federation said they would appeal the ruling to members of the IOC, the final arbiters of all things Olympic. Their argument, such as it is, says that keeping them out of the Games wouldn’t just have a negative effect on Russian athletes, but would do damage to the Olympics itself.  That’s the spirit we’re looking for. No contrition, mind you, just “we’ll take you down with us”.

This has been coming for quite some time. The Russians were suspended from international competition last November after a damning WADA report uncovered an elaborate state-run doping program. And now this, a real dagger to the heart, perhaps (unfortunately) even to some innocents. But maybe a necessary message, nonetheless.

The Russian federation made a last ditch attempt to persuade the IAAF to allow their athletes who hadn’t been sanctioned for drug use to compete.  But the level of doping skullduggery was so deeply imbedded, that failing to be caught was no guarantee of innocence at all. Sorry kids, a little too little too late. Besides, we’ve had Olympics without the Russians before  (LA ’84), and without the USA for that matter (Moscow ’80).  And no harm done — or, at least no changes made. So now we’ll just have more medals to go around. Continue reading

THE DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF SCANDAL

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

So on the same day that WADA unanimously declares Kenya non-compliant with its anti-doping code, thereby threatening the East African running juggernaut with exclusion from this summer’s Rio Olympics (along with Russia, which was also declared non-compliant last November) we also have word that  organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid were alleged to have made a “seven-figure payment” to an account controlled by the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who, himself,  was arrested last year by French authorities on corruption and money laundering charges, over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheaters.  And the beat just goes on and on and on.

Sebastion Coe Rebuilding Trust

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Images)

I don’t know, maybe Sebastian Coe is the IAAF’s last best chance.  But these latest two bombshells make you wonder if anyone involved in this filthy sport can truly be the cleansing agent needed to disinfect the body politic?

And perhaps that reflects how bad the situation really is. Looking at the entirety of the WADA Independent Commission report, along with Commission chair Dick Pound’s subsequent public support for Seb Coe as new IAAF president, the only judgement one can make is that there seems to be little appetite for the kind of wholesale reconstruction that these reports suggest is necessary.  Continue reading

TENNIS ENTERS THE DARKNESS

 

The Dark Side

The Dark Side welcomes tennis

Forget it, it’s all the same. As John Manyama, manager of 1989 New York City Marathon champion Juma Ikangaa lamented after visiting a big time Manhattan disco then comparing it to the one he’d built back home in Arusha, Tanzania with lights he bought at Home Depot, “we have only just been kidding ourselves”.

Well, we have only just been kidding ourselves, too. After all the rigmarole about the two WADA-commissioned Independent Committee reports outlining corruption, extortion and willful blindness in the IAAF, now we hear that 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 in tennis have been fixing matches or sets or games over the last decade, with the outcomes determined by Mafioso in Russia and Italy.

Come on, people, it is officially over. First FIFA, then IAAF, now tennis? And before that MLB and its complicity with steroids, and football’s case with concussions, lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan water supply?  Kids, this is who we are. Not that we don’t try to keep things above board, but how can we not see all of this as anything other than the human condition regardless the sport, regardless the national origin, regardless the political affiliation?

Put a lot of money on the line in a competitive arena, and the sharks and short-cutters begin to circle like the water has been chummed. It’s in their DNA, and too good to pass up.  The only thing that can’t be fixed is the human drive to beat the system. Continue reading