Konstantinos Kenteris and Katerina Thanos having withdrawn from the Olympics after their mysterious escapade on Friday, the average person is entitled to conclude that there is something not quite right about what has gone on in Athens. On top of that episode, everyone assumes there will be some sort of drugs scandal sooner or later. This is the Olympics, after all, and many modern sporting events do not have the confidence of those who watch them. They smell a rat at every turn.
This is a pity. Notwithstanding the international scepticism of the tortoise approach shown by the Greeks in preparing for these Games, the opening ceremony showed that the Greeks can deliver. They just could not deliver their own athletes for their drug-testing programme. But before we exceed all records for that new Olympic sport, jumping to conclusions (missed test equals drug cheat), we need to remind ourselves where things have gone wrong.
Kenteris is one of the most celebrated Greek athletes, Athlete of the Year in 2000, 2001 and 2002, holder of the Olympic, World and European records in 2002 and the first Greek to win gold at an Olympic Games since 1912. Here is a dilemma of such magnitude that it is difficult for the remaining 201 countries to comprehend. What if this had been Paula Radcliffe? Would we assume that a mistake must have been made, the testers got it wrong, the circumstances required more leniency? We have conveniently forgotten the positive drug test of Dwain Chambers, the admission of drug abuse by the cyclist David Millar, and other episodes. How would we deal with this type of crisis should London host the Games in 2012? We pride ourselves on our testing, but there is still some way to go before Britain can say it would not happen here.
So, in defiance of the Olympics' original ethos, nationalism still pervades the Games. The competition between nations has taken on new forms, but has reached a new low. "Our drug testing programmes are better than yours," "Our athletes are cleaner than yours," "Our testers cheat less than yours."
The Olympics need greater accountability, by all parties, as to how sport is kept drug-free. Inevitably this is something of a numbers game, both as it applies to each sport and each nation. How many tests, how many admissions, how many false negative tests, how many scandals at home or abroad? We should welcome the IOC's decision to count the number of tests and the number of anti-doping rule violations when evaluating the performance of each international sports federation. Still more should we welcome the World Anti-Doping Agency's decision to tot up the sanctions applied, when evaluating these bodies. Counting the right achievements is essential if the message is to be about drug-free sport.
So much for judging the sports, what about judging the nations? The problem here is that a government that invests a lot of money in sporting success is not best qualified to sit in judgement on those striving to provide it. For an athlete, do well and funding is increased (if not yours then the funding to your national federation). Do well and they will name streets after you, or give you the key to the city. Pressures build to deliver and inevitably some athletes will resort to doping. Can we blame them? And isn't it asking too much to expect governments not to be influenced by a conflict of interests?
Accountability measures should be applied to the countries of the world; this means not just counting up the amount of tests. The real fight in anti-doping requires quality too: testing the right athletes, at the right time with the right analytical techniques and being able to follow it through with the right disciplinary processes. If they cannot deliver, then countries should be excluded from the Games. The time has come for greater accountability from everyone - individual athletes, the sports at national and international level, the governments of the world. Hosting the Games was always going to add to the pressure upon Greek athletes to perform well. Intensifying the testing effort, despite its association with damage limitation is one way to keep sport drug-free, zero tolerance has to be another.
Kenteris and Thanos will be mindful of Pierre de Coubertin's philosophy for the modern Olympic Games - the important thing is not the winning, it is the taking part. Sadly this applies not only to the Games themselves but to the drug testing too.
Michele Verroken is the former director of Ethics and Anti-Doping at UK Sport
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