Why it really matters that our athletes are free from drugs

Hot on the heels of Lance Armstrong’s confessions to doping, aired across the world, have come further revelations of drug taking at high levels of sport. Last week, the Australian Crime Commission released a report that effectively accused top level sportspeople (as yet unidentified) of taking drugs – and, to make the situation even worse (if indeed it could be any worse), of links to organised crime which may potentially have led to match-fixing too.

To say that Australia has been severely disturbed by the scandal would be an understatement. A father said to me recently that Australians are laid back about everything except sport, and there is a huge passion attached to sport in this country which is enviable. When this is understood alongside the strong Australian sense of fairness and fair play, it is not surprising that the ACC report has caused such a massive stir.

It matters an enormous amount that athletes do not attempt to enhance their performance with artificial substances – that, in other words, they do not attempt to cheat. These sporting stars (and rising stars) are role models to whom we point our young people to counter the pernicious influences that arise in a world which has – regrettably – embraced Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame for everyone”. We want our young people to do sport because it is not only essential for their physical wellbeing, but it is also a great discipline, both physically and psychologically. We want our young people to be inspired by those who have worked hard to achieve the highest levels of fitness and sporting achievement because it proves that if they too work hard, they can achieve their goals. Our sports stars are role models – we look up to them, and they are hugely influential on young people.

If these sports stars turn out not to be as they seemed, then they are communicating that it is all right to cheat and manipulate … and this is wrong. It is not right to cheat; integrity and honesty are key values in the world, and we abandon them at our peril. I have written before about the intense disappointment that comes when it is discovered that great sporting stars turn out to have been false idols because of their doping. By the sounds of it, we will have a number of severe disappointments ahead of us, and we are right to feel let down.

We are going to have to find a way through this disappointment, to re-establish our trust and our faith in our sporting heroes, and we can start by delighting in the performances at school level of some amazing athletes (I write on the back of witnessing some excellent tennis and fantastic rowing this past weekend). In turn, the elite athletes of today must never forget – ever – their responsibility as role models for all the young people aspiring to find their way on to the podiums of the future.


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