By Patrick Dele Cole
HOW widespread is the practice of taking drugs for performance enhancement in sports? Here is a list of those found guilty of the practice.
Tyson Gay (May 2017), Justin Gatlin (2007), Tyler Hamilton (2004) cycling, Rick Dermot (1972) cycling, Marion Jones (2000), Kelli White (2003), Kylie palmer (2016), Lance Armstrong 2012 – all USA: Rashid Ramzi (Morocco), 2 Russians – Sergey Kirdyap (walk 2012), Olga Danilova (Cross country skiing 2002 both in London 2012); Jahan Blake (2009), Asafa Powell and Steve Mullings (3 Jamaicans), Ben Johnson (Canada 1988 at the Seoul Olympics and 1999), Chris Froome (2017 Britain); Italy had 4 in cycling.
The punishment for these drug violations was individual and after serving time, many of them came back to compete. There was no question of total ban of the US as a state sponsoring culprit.
With Russia – the same offence was called state-sponsored doping and a blanket punishment for all Russians in sports was imposed in the London, Rio and now in the Korean winter Olympics in 2018. Russia was totally barred and fined $50 million.
I do not really care how an athlete wins an event because I believe that no athlete at these heights would not do something to enhance their performance – if he or she can get away with it. The temptation is too great.
But can the sports organization blackball the whole of the US for drugs in the sport? It is sheer hypocrisy to pretend that only Russia and China dope their sportsmen with the consent of the States.
Revelation after revelation has implicated many English and US sportsmen as performance enhancing drug takers. These drugs are made in all these countries – the US, China and Russia. The books written by the coaches of nearly all the world stars have implicitly claimed to give their wards drugs for performance. Now, Christopher Fromme, a four-time winner of the cycle Tour of France failed a drug test. The Boxer, Tyson Fury who beat Vladimir Klitschko as world heavyweight champion was found to have used drugs.
Why does the UK have four teams in the World Cup and the Commonwealth games – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but send only one team to the Olympics, known as Team United Kingdom? Did Western Germany and German Democratic Republic not have two teams in the World Cup and Olympics which after German reunification have sent only one team to the Olympics and World Cup? Perhaps, as someone said, because the United Kingdom can! It reminds one of the continuous descriptions of the civil war between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as “the Irish troubles”.
It used to be fashionable to insist that sports and politics do not mix. The use of sports boycott to fight apartheid in South Africa is well known. As at the moment, the Winter Olympics to be held in Korea in the next few days leaves no one in doubt about the seminal role of sports in politics. Agreement of North Korea and South Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics has reduced tensions dangerously near a nuclear conflagration. The resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and China started with what was called Ping-Pong diplomacy, when China and the US exchanged teams in Ping-Pong (table tennis) culminating in the cordial relations established by Zhou Enlai and President Richard Nixon. In 1970, the United States tried to lead a complete boycott of the Olympics in Russia because the US disapproved of Russian action in invading Afghanistan! The irony is that Russia left Afghanistan. The US is still fighting there!!
Let us conclude by looking at the state of sports in Nigeria.
What can we do about sports in Nigeria? We need a 20/25year plan in sports. Sports is not susceptible to the criteria of federal character – that’s where politics is injuriously affecting sports. This plan should be holistic – from primary schools to tertiary institutions. The curriculum of schools must all have sports and fields – without it, no school should be approved – even at tertiary level, following the old Latin adage – a sound and healthy mind in a sound and healthy body.
Those who show aptitude when young should be sent to the countries which have proven excellence – e.g. athletes to East Africa, West Indies, the US, etc. Hockey and Cricket to India, West Indies, Australia and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) etc. Westerhoff came here and picked young players who were trained in Holland – and we had four golden periods in soccer until federal character enthusiasts killed it. There is a lot of money in sports but it does not need to come from the government. Our millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires have an opportunity to sponsor something worthwhile. They should set up a Trust Fund for various sports.
I am sure that there is corruption in East Africa, West Indies and other places, but much of the good publicity of these regions is from their excellence in sports. This is not a quick fix problem – all interest groups should be on the same page – planning, executing and a lot of training programmes and patience. One of the biggest industries in the world is entertainment, of which sports is an important, integral part. I know we have all these sports commissions but as they are now constituted they have made little or no impact. Some people may have made some small money from them, but we must move sports to a higher level.
Our plan would be to put Nigeria in the sports calendar of the world – we once had a pedigree in this – boxing, athletics, football, etc. Now nothing except that we have Nigerians who know and follow football in Europe more than the Europeans who play and follow the game. They know the English League, La Liga and Serie A more than they know their parents, siblings, towns and their own culture.
The world’s best sports go to Dubai to showcase their tennis, golf, football, track and field, basketball, formula 1 racing and other sports. In 1966, we were on the world tennis circuit but lost our status because the world players were here when the coup took place. Dubai did not do all this sports extravaganza in one day. It is instructive and good to remind Nigerians that in 1979, Nigeria Airways had 29 planes: the Emirates had 3. Today, Nigeria Airways has none while, there are now 542 Emirates flights to Dubai daily.