Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sinead Kissane: Athletics dirties its bib with 'I run clean' propaganda

Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30

Fionnuala McCormack of Ireland after finishing fourth in the Women's 10000m final on day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Fionnuala McCormack of Ireland after finishing fourth in the Women's 10000m final on day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When actor Tom Hiddleston wore a T-shirt with a three-worded message on it for the world to read earlier this week, just what kind of reaction did he expect? The man touted as the next James Bond had the words 'I Heart TS' on his T-shirt as he frolicked (that's the word for it, right?) in the sea alongside his new squeeze Taylor Swift.

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Hiddleston may only have been taking Swifty's famous lyric - 'I got a blank space baby, and I'll write your name' - a little too much to heart. But when pictures of him and his 'I Heart TS' T-shirt hit the internet, all that could be heard were nauseous groans on social media.

Dear Tom, don't you know that the easy way to invite ridicule and scepticism is to write a message on your T-shirt and expect the world to believe it?

When the European Athletics Association made athletes wear a bib with a three-worded message on it for the world to read this week, just what kind of reaction did they expect?

Seeing as the sport is in a bit of a pickle with stuff like credibility, some genius had a lightbulb moment that athletes should be turned into propaganda-carriers to try and win back public interest.

So every athlete competing in this week's European Athletics Championships has had the words 'I Run Clean', 'I Jump Clean', 'I Throw Clean', 'I Am Holier Than Thou' (ok, not quite the last one) on their bibs just below their names.

In a statement from European Athletics last week, athletes were also encouraged to "promote this message of anti-doping on social media" using #irunclean etc.

The same genius must have figured that everyone who watches athletics is so damn thick and desperate to see a clean sport that if the bib says 'I Run Clean' then, jeepers, that athlete has got to be clean, honey. Why would anyone want to let something as inconvenient as the truth get in the way?

"We are trying to give a signal that clean athletes take it seriously and support our ideas because all of us want a clean sport. This (the bibs) is a symbol," Svein Arne Hansen, president of the European Athletic Association, said. "It will be a new beginning for athletics."

Oh dear. Mr Hansen, don't you know that the easy way to invite ridicule and scepticism is make athletes wear a message on their T-shirt and expect the world to believe it?

When making athletes wear a message with 'I Run Clean' is deemed the answer, then what the hell was the question? Because if the question included the word "image" then trying to control the storyline with these kind of 'messages' is beyond laughable.

What about the obvious: how do they know that every single athlete wearing said bib is clean? If they don't, why are they so clearly misleading the public? The last time I checked, this is also known as propaganda.

Even worse than the message is European Athletics' control of the messenger. "We want to give a voice to clean athletes on how they want our sport to be in the future," Mr Hansen added. "It is important for them to give them the opportunity to express their feelings".

How odd that his statement doesn't quite tally with the views of Fionnuala McCormack (née Britton) and Thomas Barr. "It's a complete joke," McCormack said about bib-gate. "I've said it to people at the top and they've basically just said it's not something you have a choice in, just go and do it as it makes (the sport) look good to the rest of the public. The athletes are basically pawns in the whole thing."

And Barr: "I think it's a bit of a gimmick because there are people out there wearing it that are not clean."

Bravo Fionnuala and Thomas. I wonder how Mr Hansen and co feel about the Irish bringing their ridiculous idea into disrepute?

Tell me Mr Hansen, is it "their" feelings you're concerned about or the feelings you're trying to forge for everyone watching, including sponsors? When every athlete is made carry this 'I Run Clean' message without anyone being 100 per cent sure that every one of them is 100 per cent clean, and when this "policy" of wearing this message is an order from the top down, did you not sense that this could come off as manipulative and controlling?

Sure, we want to see a clean(er) sport. But when a message is contrived, it has zero credibility. I would love to see more clean athletes revolt and demand answers over the way their sport has been broken.

Insulting

But it is insulting to you, the reader, for me to even point out that resorting to this kind of gimmick on a T-shirt is papering over the serious damage athletics has to deal with.

European Athletics say they hope to collect around 100 blood and around 200 urine samples this week in Amsterdam. Instead of carrying worthless messages on bibs, they should be using athletes in the fight against doping in a more useful/intelligent way. They should be creating a culture where clean athletes can trust and help the authorities to make an impact.

Last month the acclaimed German journalist Hajo Seppelt, who exposed the athletics doping scandal in Russia, was among those who set up a platform - SportsLeaks.com - "dedicated to whistle-blowing in sport".

"With our platform, you can provide any kind of information - documents, data, simple text, audio or video recordings," the blurb from the website reads.

Has European Athletics considered anything similar? This is exactly what they should be doing - encouraging athletes to become "whistle-blowers" against dopers in athletics instead of dirtying their bibs with worthless messages and hiding behind hashtags.

Sometimes a sport needs a big gesture but athletics, right now, ain't that sport.

When it comes to three small words on a T-shirt, everyone knows that actions speak louder.

Irish Independent

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