Thursday 27 June 2019

Sinead Kissane: Martin Fagan has served his time but Rio appearance would insult clean athletes

'The Martin Fagan ‘dilemma’ makes us really question how much we want a clean sport'
'The Martin Fagan ‘dilemma’ makes us really question how much we want a clean sport'
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

It is 9.30am local time in Rio on Sunday, August 21, 2016. It is the final day of the Olympic Games and Martin Fagan is at the start-line of the marathon.

It is four and a half years since his first confession for doping after he tested positive for EPO. It is two and a half years since he finished a two-year ban.

And here he is in Rio, wearing an Ireland singlet representing our country at the Olympic Games.

How does that sit with you?

It could be another year before we find out if the above scenario has a real possibility of happening.

Last Sunday he became the first Irishman to run the Olympic qualifying standard for the marathon. A number of other Irishmen will also look to chase down that qualifying time. If more than three athletes run the standard, then Athletics Ireland will decide who will represent Ireland in Rio.

Since news of his qualifying time, I have tried to look at all sides of the morality versus reality arguments of Fagan's situation.

Does he deserve a second chance? Isn't sport meant to be a reflection of life? And dammit, haven't we all screwed up at some stage and needed that second chance to prove ourselves?

According to the rules, Fagan has done his time for cheating. It is not his problem that when he tested positive for EPO, the standard ban was a pathetic two years.

Look through the list of athletes who are currently suspended from all competitions in athletics following an Anti-Doping Rule Violation and 61pc will be free to compete again from May 2016.

At least that ridiculously lenient two-year standard ban was increased to four years in January this year.

Another reason some feel that Fagan deserves a second chance is because of how he reacted when he got caught. He didn't deny taking EPO. He told of the pressures he felt he was under and his battle with depression at the time.

He served his suspension and he has a right to return to work. And therefore he is free to try and compete for Ireland at the Olympics.

But it just doesn't feel right.

Sport is a giver when it comes to second chances. But there shouldn't be second chances when it comes to doping. Allowing athletes who have taken performance-enhancing drugs back in has left athletics in a vicious circle which is crucifying its credibility.

The Martin Fagan 'dilemma' makes us really question how much we want a clean sport. It is easy to feel sympathy for Fagan's back-story but that should not be the issue here.

It is equally as easy to condemn and constantly question how clean other international athletes are who return to competition when we don't fully know their history or their family or their circumstances.

I don't need to point out the double standards here.

I don't want athletics to be a reflection of our flawed life and society. Life is where unfair stuff happens. I want athletics to be fair. I want it to be held in a higher moral ground when it comes to our approach to drug-taking, and surely we have to fight for that ideal.

Isn't the beauty of sport the feeling that real life has been suspended for a few hours as you watch in awe at super-humans perform almost superhuman feats? How many times have you left a stadium after a match and asked yourself 'did I really just see that?'

In athletics, there can be a different suspension of belief. You can sit back and swallow everything you see. Or you have to question everything you see. I'm not saying other sports don't have doping problems, of course not.

But global athletics has suffered from a sliding scale of a historical tolerance and weakness to stamp out doping. And that shakes down to others who then don't believe there's anything wrong with an athlete with a doping past getting a second chance. Have I mentioned the words 'zero tolerance' yet?

But the most frustrating aspect of this debate is how insulting it is to clean athletes.

Morality in this kind of conversation should not be about giving an athlete who had a tough time but decided to dope a second chance. It's about protecting the morality of the clean athletes, who make the decision not to cheat, or to lie or to make fools of the rest of us for trusting them.

How demoralising it must be for them to listen to people who preach about forgiving and forgetting. It's their story which gets lost as people like me spend more time pointing out what's wrong with the sport that they're busting a gut for.

You will have your own opinion of whether Fagan deserves a second chance.

I asked Sonia O'Sullivan about it during the week. While she admitted at first that the idea of an athlete who has tested positive for drugs and served a two-year suspension competing at the Olympics "doesn't sit easily" with her, she added that everyone will have their view on the matter.

Sonia's Olympic experiences are the perfect examples of the kind of second-chance, third-chance stories that should be zoned in on coming up to an Olympics. Of athletes who have suffered their own kind of failures and want the chance to prove themselves again. Where their starting point has always been a form of bloody-minded honesty and they never deviate from that attitude.

When athletes are at the start-line in Rio we have to be able to believe what we see. Or else, what's the point?

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