If you read this blog at all you will know that I am a massive athletics fan. For me it is the purest of sports. The events in athletics are the fundamentals required in many other sports; running, jumping and throwing. I was involved from the sport from the age of eleven and even though I no longer compete I get excited at the prospect of sitting and watching a meeting on the TV. As a youngster I had my own athletics heroes and I revered them and looked up to them. For my they were the epitome of hard work, dedication and commitment. Apart from dopers. Nobody respected dopers.
Whenever I hear that an athlete has been found guilty of a doping offence I get a knot in the pit of my stomach and my heart sinks. ‘Not again’, I will think to myself. If it’s an athlete I like it will be a mixture of disappointment, frustration and sadness. And then when I start to go back over their career or results I start to feel like the signs were there all along, a bit like a scorned woman who has just discovered her lover has been cheating on her. They were doing it right in front of you all along. In the case of dopers in front of millions of people.
Athletics has been tarnished so much lately with the doping scandal in Russia and reports of other high profile athletes testing positive for banned substances. It becomes hard to take the sport seriously. And with the news that they’re planning to re-test results from Beijing how can anyone take the results sheet of a major championships seriously? It’s embarrassing and makes it increasingly hard to defend the sport to people who don’t rate athletics at all.
So when I heard the news that recurrent doper Gatlin had been signed by Nike I felt that familiar knot in my stomach again. He has been caught twice, been banned twice and like a bad penny has now turned up again to compete, as is his right according to the rules. But I can’t honestly stomach it. He’s like the cheating lover again. The one who got caught out and forgiven but continues to cheat because he knows he will continue to be forgiven by a partner.
When I think of Gatlin I don’t really think of him directly. I think of the competitors who have lost out to him while he was doping. I think of kids like mine who may now be inspired by him because he is sponsored by a high profile company such as Nike. I think of the arrogance and the unrepentance of many dopers because of the inconsistent rulings of the IAAF and other bodies that are meant to discourage doping. I think of the young sports people tied in to Nike for kit and funding now knowing that they are tied to the same company that endorses a doper. You’ve got to feel for them because it’s not like they have a huge choice in funding and they obviously won’t want to jeopardise their income. I also think of hard working athletes who are a credit to the sport being dropped. It is a crying, crying shame.
I know that Justin Gatlin isn’t the whole of sport at but apparently Nike have a history of endorsing doping athletes. I also know that Nike is an American organisation and in the States he is apparently thought of highly. Which is weird because athletics isn’t even up there in the most popular of sports in the US. I just find the decision incredibly cynical and for no good reason other than to generate money and some headlines for Nike.
But what I also know is that athletics fans will hate this and as we tend to be the punters who buy the merchandise a lot of fans will vote with their feet. I also have faith in the huge number of hard working CLEAN athletes who continue to make athletics the great sport that it is. I am under no illusion that it will make a dent in the armour of the power house that is Nike but it will make us feel a whole lot better in the knowledge that we refuse to tacitly support a man who has cheated on the sport and on his fellow clean athletes, not once, but twice.