James Corrigan: Puritans are just taking the Pistorius
The Last Word: Hysteria over 'cheating' should not be allowed to keep an inspirational athlete out of the Olympics
Witch-hunting must become an Olympic sport. And why not introduce it in time for London 2012? After all, the build-up is already dominated by the search for evil athletes mixing their wicked concoctions, and it would be a shame if the grand climax did not feature at least one of the accused being set on fire or dunked in water.
May I put forward Oscar Pistorius, the South African 400 metres runner. He has already overcome one trial by ordeal, so I'm positive he could cope with another. This double amputee has the effrontery to gain an advantage over his poor, fully able rivals by leaping around on prosthetic limbs made ofcarbon, which very probably come complete with turbo-boosters.
At the moment The Blade Runner– to use his moniker of the coven – is eligible to compete at the Games, but surely the authorities will come to their senses. Further investigations are plainly required, as a few facts need checking: a) could he run that fast if he hadn't so cynically had his legs chopped off as a cravenly ambitious 11-month-old?; b) if Roger Black had had the operation and gone for the blades, would he would have beaten Michael Johnson?; and c) does Oscar own a black cat?
It is impossible not to take the Pistorius after the reaction of many to his time of 45.07sec on Tuesday evening, which earned passage to this year's World Championships as well as next year's Olympics. Instead of rejoicing in one of life's more fantastical successes and speculating what this could do for disabled sports, they filled the message boards with cries for retribution.
They referred to a "flawed" Court of Arbitration of Sport decision in 2008, after the IAAF crassly ruled Pistorius ineligible to compete at the Beijing Olympics. They pointed to the defence's scientists, who have since changed their mind on the effectiveness of Pistorius's Cheetah Flex-Foot contraptions. They reached the conclusion that the governing body should ban "the fastest man on no legs". Sentiment should play no part in it, they said.
But why shouldn't it? Why are so many sports fans so keen to focus on the precedent and not on the person? How have we become so hardened to what should, essentially, be about enjoyment? The answer is, of course, Seoul 1988 and Ben Johnson, that original sporting witch.
As soon as he crossed that line in that chemically inspired time of 9.79sec the wheels were set in motion for hysteria to take over. Every cheat was to be unearthed; there would be zero tolerance. Those good men on their trusty white steeds were going to clean up sport once and for all.
And where are we, 23 years later? Not far from where we started. In fact, we are a few 100m back from where we started. Not only are some of the guilty still getting away with it, but we are in the mess where some of the innocent aren't getting away with doing nothing.
Take the example of Albert Subirats last week. Not many would have heard of the appalling treatmentof the Venezuelan swimmer, and because we are all so damned sanctimonious about drug punishments even fewer of us would have cared. Subirats, the first athlete from his country to win a World Championship medal, was banned for one year on the "whereabouts" rule, whichrequires athletes to keep the anti-dopers informed of their location. Fina, the governing body of swimming, accept Subirats informed his nationalassociation of his whereabouts and that between the two organisations there was a clerical error. Yet the ban stands. Why? No tolerance – it's the athlete's responsibility.
Meanwhile, at around the same time as that stunning verdict, the Court of Arbitration for Sport were clearing another swimmer, the doubleworld record-holder Cesar Cielo. Cielo failed a drugs test, but argued that his normal supplements had been cross-contaminated. Why such tolerance for the Brazilian? Because the rulebook, that blessed bible for the anti-dopers, allows a little in the case of positive tests.
And there you have it. One athlete fails no test; he is banned. Another athlete fails a test; he isn't banned. If you would like to see where all that moral panic has taken sport, it is contained in this grotesque anomaly and in the disgusting truth that, as the rules stand, Subirats will not be allowed to compete in London.
Still, the self-righteous will sleep easier, just as they will if Pistorius is stopped from realising his dream. "Better that one innocent athlete suffers than 10 guilty athletes escape" – it is sport's new motto.
Furore over Rory is blast of hot air
Apart from all his other gifts, Rory McIlroy has the power to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But that doesn't automatically mean he is wrong.
Indeed, some of us believe that he was essentially correct a few years ago when he referred to the Ryder Cup as "an exhibition" that should be a long way down a professional's priority list, way beneath the majors. And all of us should think him spot-on in his assessment of the Open, which offended so many last Sunday.
Basically, all McIlroy was saying when he came off Royal St George's frustrated by a tie for 25th was that he has more chance of winning the Claret Jug when it isn't windy. Straight away, his previously unimpeachable credentials to become one of the greats were questioned. But why? Haven't they ever heard of Tiger Woods?
The second most successful player in the history of golf isn't best suited to the blowy stuff either. Yet he has won three Opens. How could that be? Maybe because Woods happened to prevail when the conditions were calm. On both occasions at the Old Course (in 2000 and 2005) the gusts rivalled the women members of the R&A for number, while at Hoylake in 2006 the only discernible wind emanated from the Men's Bar.
To paraphrase McIlroy: "Woods waited for the years when the weather was nice." It didn't do him any harm and it probably won't do Rory any harm either. Furthermore, it will not be about the young Ulsterman "learning to play in the wind". It will be about the young Ulsterman "learning not to be honest with the media". In fact, just like Tiger Woods.
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