Wednesday 21 March 2018

Sharapova is far from sport's biggest villain

Tennis star Maria Sharapova speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday Photo: AP
Tennis star Maria Sharapova speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday Photo: AP

Eamonn Sweeney

In what is presumably an indicator of encroaching senility, I've taken to keeping fowl in my front garden over the past couple of years. Ducks, geese, chickens, guinea fowl, quail and a turkey named Reggie who was my favourite member of the cabal, a gentle soul who'd take food from your hand and come into the house and got on great with the kids.

The day before I wrote the column, Reggie was killed by a fox. The fox did not, however, manage to drag him away so I dug a hole and buried the poor creature. There's a fair bit of digging when a turkey is involved. But down he went. And then this morning the dog dug up Reggie, brought him to the front door and laid him at my feet with the air of someone who has done something extremely clever and expects to be congratulated for it.

And as I contemplated the excavated corpse it struck me that my feelings at this moment were similar to those which followed the news that Maria Sharapova had been caught doping.

1) This stinks.

2) Here we go again.

3) It's a pity this didn't stay buried.

Why 3? Surely ever sports star caught doping is a triumph for the authorities which brings us ever closer to the holy grail of drug-free sport? Well, it would be nice to think so. It would be very nice to think so.

But the truth is that there will be no end to doping stories and I'm beginning to tire of them. I'm tired of the collective moral fervour that attends them in the post-Armstrong era. I'm tired of the lip-smacking glee with which people greet the latest downfall. I'm tired of the assumption that all doping offences are the same and that people who haven't gone the Armstrong route of trying to slime their accusers are treated as his equal in pariah status. I'm tired of how easy it is to get up on the high horse over stuff like this. I'm tired of reacting like this myself.

And I'm tired of doping being treated as though it's the number one offence in sport when other forms of corruption get an easier ride. Sharapova will lose her big contracts for taking a supplement which was only banned this year. Qatar, on the other hand, will get to keep the World Cup even though thousands of migrant labourers will be worked to death to enable them to do so. But if you think there are moral issues of great import involved in the fall of Maria Sharapova, be my guest. She seems an unlikely supervillain to me but maybe I'm just that bit less moral than you are.

Next week: Foxhunting and why it's a great idea.

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