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EDITORIAL - The cheating dilemma

Published:Saturday | August 4, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Taking an athlete from his bed to administer a drug test mere hours from competition could be interpreted as harassment, or worse, some kind of cruel mind game. In fact, three tests administered in five days could be reasonably described as "excessive", as Asafa Powell and his management are contending.

The former 100-metre record holder, who was reportedly awakened after 10 o'clock at night by doping officials, claims he is being targeted by officials at the London Olympics.

Powell's concern has brought the matter of drug testing into sharp focus. While the world has been mesmerised by the awesome performance of phenomenal sports figures, there is no denying that cheats have existed from ancient times. History tells us that Roman Emperor Nero took a cocktail of wild boar's manure to aid his performance in the Games.

The Olympic Games have been tarnished by cheats over the years. According to the organisers, over the last five Olympics, an average 12 athletes per staging have been expelled after testing positive for using performance-enhancing drugs. Fans must often wonder whether the victories they are celebrating of their favourite team or individual are caused by talent and training, or cheating.

The International Olympic Committee has established a US$30-million state-of-the-art laboratory with the help of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, to carry out some 6,000 blood and urine tests this year. Even before the London Olympics began, more than 100 athletes were swept out of competition after testing positive for using banned substances. So far, two athletes have been expelled from London, which is the risk that cheaters face.

Many safeguards

There is an eight-year statute of limitation on the samples collected from all athletes, to allow for retesting if new methods emerge, which means that up to 2020, medals earned in these London Games could be overturned. Samples from the 2004 Athens Olympics were being tested up to last month. So many safeguards are being put in place to ensure that no athlete has an unfair advantage over their opponents. Yet, cheating continues.

Jamaican athletes have stunned the world with incredible performances over the years. And there has been some scepticism about how a tiny dot in the Caribbean Sea, with limited resources and low technology, can nurture so many world-beaters.

Many studies have been done to try to determine what magic drives the Jamaicans. Theorists have credited Jamaican products, ranging from ackees to yams, for the prowess of Jamaican athletes.

But there is something these theorists don't understand about the Jamaican psyche. Patriotic pride swells within the ordinary Jamaican, and imbued in the Jamaican persona is an indomitable spirit that drives individuals towards excellence.

Olympic glory, national adulation and the opportunity for a huge payday may tempt some athletes and their coaches to cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Right now, some fans are not too pleased about the return of cheaters who have served their ban and have returned to competition. A two-year ban for drug cheats may not be a severe deterrent to ensure that athletes clean up their act. And the debate is ongoing about a suitable punishment to fit the crime.

Reference is made to a survey conducted among Olympians who were asked whether they would rather win a gold medal and die within 10 years, or go on living and not win gold. A stunning 80 per cent of the athletes surveyed said they would rather win gold. Any wonder why those with warped values fuel cheating?

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