Thursday 23 May 2019

Sinead Kissane: Athlone IT's invite to Asafa Powell invite sends out wrong message

Was it really too much to ask for Athlone IT to restrict Grand Prix guest-list to athletes with clean history?

Asafa Powell, from Jamaica, who will be competing in the men's 60m, during the sold-out second AIT International Arena Grand Prix
Asafa Powell, from Jamaica, who will be competing in the men's 60m, during the sold-out second AIT International Arena Grand Prix
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The embarrassing/entertaining rant of the week was brought to you courtesy of Mo Farah this week. The Olympic champion showed that his own arrogance can also run, but it can't hide as he got involved in a petty war of words on Twitter with his Great Britain team-mate Andy Vernon.

Unlike Farah, Vernon isn't a household name. Or to use that warped currency of popularity, Farah has 1.1m followers on Twitter while Vernon has less than 7,000.

Forget ridiculous selfies or other versions of self-promotion, Twitter was surely made for conversations like this one between Farah and Vernon. If you haven't seen it, a synopsis is that Vernon started the slagging by calling the line-up that Farah will face in his first race of the Indoor season today a "#joke".

Farah responded with "I wish you did make the cut mate so I can leave you in my dust like ALWAYS!! Hahahha #hatersgonnahate"

When Vernon responded that he would "rather watch a race than the Mo Show", Farah shot back: "that's why they didn't put you in the race mate.. Cos you're an embarrassment!! Taylor swift can probably run faster than you!"

Ouch.

Up until the "you're an embarrassment!!" remark, the spat was pretty cringeworthy. And while Vernon certainly provoked Farah, it turned into the Mo Show as he showed off his sledging skills to a wider audience with his "embarrassment" slur.

We know some can use Twitter to dictate the image they want to present of themselves. It is, after all, all about optics isn't it?

Last summer it was sunny-side-up between Farah and Vernon when they celebrated after their 1-2 in 10,000m and gold and bronze respectively in the 5,000m at the European Championships in Zurich.

In skirmishes like these the reaction from other Twitter users can slide between the predictable and the, well, predictable.

Like the tweet from @Heatonharriers: "@Mo_Farah @AndyVernonGB disappointing to see such behaviour between teammates, you guys are supposed to be role models #growup".

Of course the role-model card was dutifully given a run-out. Why is it that just because someone plays sport it elevates them to "role-model" status?

Of course any public funding an athlete receives should come with responsibilities attached. But not everyone should automatically be called a role model. It's not like athletes are being paid to serve as an example to the rest of the community or fulfil roles of responsibility in places of education like schools or colleges.

Or in a place like Athlone IT for example.

While Farah and Vernon were squabbling on Twitter, Athlone IT was preparing for its own Grand Prix the following day at the impressive Indoor Arena.

On the guest list was Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell. He is a former 100m record holder. He has two World Championship bronze medals. He also tested positive for a stimulant in July 2013.

Powell was originally handed an 18-month ban before it was reduced to six months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. CAS accepted Powell's claim that a contaminated version of a legal supplement was to blame.

Powell was invited to compete in Athlone by the President of Athlone IT Ciarán O Catháin, who is also President of Athletics Ireland. On a number of occasions in past few weeks, O Catháin has had to defend his decision to ask Powell to compete in Athlone.

"I think to be fair to any athlete, and to be fair to everybody, if a ban is completed that athlete is eligible to compete," O Catháin stated.

What's that phrase again? Oh yeah; if you're explaining, you're losing.

I'll resort to an over-used 'Liveline' statement here and ask what kind of message it sends out to students when an athlete who failed a doping test is asked to compete in an event on their campus?

We're not ignoring the finer details of Powell's case and he has every right to make a living out of the sport and compete where he wants. But when it comes to invitational meetings where you can pick and choose the athletes you want to headline and help promote the event, is it too much to ask that the guest list only includes athletes with a clean history?

Really, is that too much to ask?

Powell didn't end up running in the Athlone IT Grand Prix after he got injured in the warm-up. He said after that he would like to come back next year. That will be O'Catháin's decision - he has done a lot of great work for Irish athletics including sourcing the funds to build the indoor track.

Even though Powell won his appeal and got his ban cut, his failed test has to be viewed in the bigger picture. All promoters understandably want a big-name draw. But the optics of choosing to ask an athlete who has previously served a suspension for doping to be one of the headline acts at an invitational meet on a college campus just does not sit well at all.

Because just like Farah's public put-down of his team-mate this week, perception can be everything.

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