Friday 24 May 2019

Sinead Kissane: Doping means love for athletics has run its course

Florence Griffith-Joyner celebrates winning gold in the Women's 100m metres at the 1988 Olympics
Florence Griffith-Joyner celebrates winning gold in the Women's 100m metres at the 1988 Olympics
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Florence Griffith-Joyner used to be on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. Everything about the American athlete was over-the-top. Ridiculous nails. Ridiculous gear. Ridiculous speed. Ridiculously good.

I was a junkie for speed when I was a kid so the poster of Flo-Jo fitted perfectly. A few weeks after I won the Under 10 200m at the National Community Games in Mosney, I watched on TV as Flo-Jo flew it at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with the 100m and 200m double. She had all her usual accoutrements. And her ridiculous speed.

Athletics had us hooked growing up. Weekends during the indoor, outdoor and cross-country seasons were spent travelling around the country with my family, friends and our club competing in various events. And there were the countless tapes of World Championships, Europeans and Olympic Games at home. The first sports documentary I ever watched was the saccharine '16 Days of Glory' about the 1984 LA Olympics. We gobbled up the stories and swallowed them whole.

But athletics has become a sport I love to hate. Internationally, it is stinking the place out with the latest blasting of its credibility. A whistle-blower in a German TV documentary claimed that as many as 99pc of Russia's international athletes are guilty of doping. It's alleged that Russian officials systematically accepted money from athletes to supply drugs and cover up tests.


Worse, was that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was implicated in covering up abuse. Its ethics committee is investigating claims that they failed to act on cases from 2006-2008 of 150 athletes who had suspicious blood samples.

Further investigations this week revealed that included on the list of athletes with abnormal blood readings is "one of Britain's biggest athletics stars" and two other British athletes.

In a parallel universe, I would love to see the sponsors of international athletics find some high horse to hop on and desert a sport which has long been losing its credibility. Because with no sponsors, there's no money. With no money, there's no greed. With no greed, there are fewer cheats or pimps or dopers. Sponsors need to pause for a moment and remove the speed goggles. But of course, with no sponsors, there's no money. With no money, there's no future. With no future, what's the point?

Well, the point is the clean athletes obviously. Remember them? At the 2010 European Athletics Championships, some friends and family of GB's Jenny Meadows were sitting near us in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. They shrieked and roared their way through her race as she finished third in the 800m. The athlete who won it was Russia's Mariya Savinova. She was apparently caught on undercover footage admitting to taking steroids in that German TV documentary. This week Meadows said if the allegations of doping against Russian athletes are true, then "I think this would be the biggest doping scandal of all time".

Few are naive enough to believe that athletics will ever be drug-free. You're always going to have the cheat with the non-existent moral compass. But systematic drug-taking is one of the most corrupt aspects of doping. Seb Coe has launched his bid to become the next president of the IAAF. He said athletics is in "very, very difficult times". Nicely understated, Seb. But please, spare us any rebarbative or baseless promises. First on his manifesto should be finding a way in the legal landscape to implement a zero tolerance approach with life-time bans for drug cheats.

The ideal that "no individual is bigger than a sport" is not necessarily true in global athletics. Usain Bolt is the face of world track and field. But it's kind of scary that a sport's broad popularity is so dependent on one man.

I believe Bolt is a freak of nature. He tells the world to trust him, that he's clean (yes, what else is he going to say). Thing is, I want to believe him but I've long sworn to myself that I will give up watching international athletics if it's ever discovered that he's doping.

It happened to be on the day of my 20th birthday that Florence Griffith-Joyner died in her sleep from an epileptic seizure ten years after the Seoul Olympics. Turned out her speed was as fake as her nails as her career was tarnished by rumours of steroid abuse.

But I always kept my real respect and admiration for athletes who were real to me. Like my uncle Tom O'Riordan who was an Olympian. Like my sister, Niamh, who won an Under-18 National Cross-Country title. Like one of my best friends, Orla O'Mahoney, who made us burst with pride when she ran for Ireland at the World Cross-Country Championships in Leopardstown.

It's kept too for athletes like Sonia O'Sullivan and Derval O'Rourke. And for the new breed of Irish athletes like Mark English and Thomas Barr.

Unfortunately, athletics has become an a la carte sport. You have to pick and choose the athletes you believe in. Which really doesn't make it much of a sport at all.

Munster must live up to the cliche if they're to pass French test

We like resorting to cliches in sport. Because there's an odd comfort in them. And also some truth. Like "Never Write Off Munster" or "Fortress Thomond Park".

Last weekend though was all about the anti-cliche. When the full-time whistle blew in Clermont Auvergne's win over Munster at Thomond Park, there was an astonishment at what just happened. Munster losing a home European game to French opposition. Excuse me? Munster getting bullied in their own back-yard? Get outta here.

And what about Paul O'Connell calling a throw on himself in the line-out in the final play of the game but the move gets sussed and the ball is stolen by an opponent. Well, I never.

Now they only have to go to one of the most partisan grounds in Europe. Munster must try and become the first Irish team to win at the Stade Marcel Michelin tomorrow to save their European season. Last May, Castres ended Clermont's incredible 77-game unbeaten home record.

Can we rely on any cliche that the French team might be overly confident this week? Probably not. Not with Jono Gibbes there anyways.

His departure from Leinster last season didn't get the uproar it deserved. To some on the outside, it was a case of you don't know (entirely) what you've got 'til it's gone. But Gibbes' leaving was also smoothed over by the promotion of Leo Cullen.

Munster will know what Cullen and co did when they beat Clermont in the semi-finals albeit in Bordeaux two years ago.

Can Munster turn it around in the space of a week? Sure they can. Will be it enough? Hard to know. Only that you know you can never write off Munster.

Sports stars have to watch their potty mouths

New England Patriots quarter-back Tom Brady and Toulon prop Martin Castrogiovanni were caught up with some swearing issues this week.

Brady was responding to criticism about his flowery language caught on TV during games and specifically for using the f word. And he wasn't apologising for it: "We're not choir boys".

He believes there's nothing quite like using the f-word to express exactly how he feels. And he was putting the blame firmly on the networks for putting the profanities out on TV. You can see his point.

And then there was Castrogiovanni who didn't exactly use the most endearing of language about his former Leicester boss Richard Cockerill after the Tigers beat Toulon last weekend.

Castro called Cockerill "a c***" a number of times in a feisty but obviously inappropriate post-match interview. Now Cockerill is a man who had his own disciplinary issues in the past. But he wasn't for forgiving and forgetting when he spoke about the Castro incident this week. He said the Italian had "sullied his reputation" with the Tigers with his outburst.

When they talk of about bad blood being carried over in these back-to-back games in Europe, this rematch in the south of France will bring with it the right amount of spice.

Irish Independent

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