So, start of a new month, guess it must be time for yet another doping scandal in top level sport. This time, take a bow Maria Sharapova, who just held a press conferenced to announce that she's tested positive for some drug called meldonium, which has only recently been added to the banned list. She's adopted a clever PR strategy to try and get out in front of the story and as it stands she seems to be attracting a measure of sympathy from the media, but really she shouldn't. The claim is that this is a drug she's been taking on the advice of her 'family doctor' for the last 10 years to treat some ill-defined health conditions and because there's apparently a family history of diabetes. She says that she missed the email where it was announced that it was going to be banned from the start of 2016 and so ended up testing positive at the Australian Open. It all sounds vaguely plausible until you become acquainted with the facts.
Meldonium is performance enhancing. It increases blood flow and so boosts endurance, which is obviously going to be of use to a lot of high-level professional athletes, particularly in a sport like tennis. It would be interesting to find out who this so-called family doctor is, because Sharapova has been resident in the US since she was 7 years old and meldonium has never been licensed by the FDA, meaning that a woman worth over $100 million with access to the finest medical treatment known to man must have been sourcing it from back home in Russia and getting it imported into a jurisdiction where it is illegal to prescribe. It's also a fact that she doesn't actually have diabetes, and that the Latvian manufacturers of the drug say that it's intended for use by people with serious heart disease and a typical course of treatment lasts for 4-6 weeks. Not 10 years you'll note. Oh, and apparently 17% of Russian athletes have been found to be regular users of it. Amazing how many Russian athletes seem to have heart disease...
While it's true to say that this has only just been banned so Sharapova hasn't actually been breaking any rules up until January this year, it's also quite clear that she was doping the whole time. She took this drug for 10 years because it enhanced her performance, not because she needed it medically.
But I don't want to be too harsh on Sharapova. Yes, I'm convinced that she's been doping for her whole career, but the same goes for most top sportspeople. We need only look at the unfolding farce at the IAAF to see that. Russia found to be systematically doping all their athletes, Kenya about to be ruled in breach of the WADA code, whistleblowers at the Oregon Project suggesting widescale doping in the US, and all the time the head of the IAAF was running a protection racket taking bribes to cover up positive tests. Clearly athletics is a joke. Then we have cycling of course, which doesn't even need to be discussed, so much has already been revealed about systematic doping in that sport. Tennis is likely to be the next sport to utterly and completely lose the trust of the fans, and not before time. It's well known that Dr Fuentes, the Spanish sports doctor who was busted in the Operacion Puerto scandal a few years back, was not only working with cyclists. He also had a number of athletes, tennis players (Rafa Nadal anyone ?) and footballers on his books, and had been known to work with both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the past. The Spanish courts have ordered that all of his samples be destroyed and the appeal against that decision is soon to be heard. Anybody like to take a guess as to why they'd want to try and cover up the disgrace of so many national heroes...?
I'm firmly of the opinion that almost all of our sporting heroes will someday be exposed as drugs cheats. In fact, the way things are going it'll soon be more of a case of who isn't doping ? Here's just a few of the big names that I'm fairly certain are probably cheating, I'd be interested to see if youy agree:
Rafa Nadal. As insinuated above, it seems highly likely that Nadal is, or at least was, a doper. When he started out in the game he was a waif and yet somehow he beefed up into a man mountain who nevetheless managed to play at a million miles per hour for 5 sets without ever seeming to tire despite covering vast distances mostly from the baseline. It's well known that Spanish sport has a major doping problem and also that Fuentes' samples included several from well known tennis players, but we'll probably never get to the bottom of that. Either way though, the inexplicable rise and of Nadal and his lung-busting style surely has to make him suspect. There used to be a very lengthy post available about the 'curious case of Rafael Nadal' on this blog:
It gave chapter and verse on the subject in great detail, but it seems to have been taken down. Rumour is that the blog author had been threatened... The rest of it is still well worth reading though.
Mo Farah. National treasure that he is, you do have to be sceptical about the man. He was a middling performer for years until he went off and hooked up with Salazar (now under a cloud of course) and suddenly began to completely dominate his sport. Keep in mind that his sport is itself dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians, who have the laxest drug testing regimes in athletics and a huge number of whom have still tested positive anyway. It's obvious that distance running is is utterly riddled with dopers. Yet here's Mo Farah, who consistently beats all of the dopers. Anybody really believe that he's doing it cleanly ? I certainly don't.
And then there's the big one...
Usain Bolt. It pains me to say this because I really like Bolt, he's probably the coolest man on Earth. But let's get real here. After Bolt, the next fastest men on Earth are Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. What do all of these men have in common ? Well, every single one of them is a proven drug cheat, some of whom have been banned more than once. Are we really expected to believe that the only man in top-level sprinting not on drugs is the one who's half a second quicker than all the rest of them ? I mean really.
When Ben Johnson famously doped his way to gold in the 88 Olympics the samples from the final were frozen and kept in storage. Twenty years later somebody from WADA went back and retested them. What he found was that Johnson was not the only doper in the race. In fact, there was only one member of that race who came up clean, the man who finished last. He also found traces of all kinds of other drugs which the testers at the time didn't even realise existed let alone had a test for. If you believer things are any different now then you're a more trusting man than I am. Personally I don't think there's a single record in major athletics that can be trusted and I think that a lot of the great teams that we've all been thrilled by over the years will one day be viewed the same way we view Johnson et al as well.
Are there any heroes left ?