POSTED: May 3rd 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: Move by European Athletics needs financial force

Will show companies wind up putting bonuses in a trust fund for a decade to ensure a clean win? © Bigstock
Will show companies wind up putting bonuses in a trust fund for a decade to ensure a clean win? © Bigstock

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The constant flow of retrospective positive drugs tests has forced the athletics' authorities to act. Or at least start to act. What has worried most sports, and track and field in particular, is the feeling that when a record is broken, spectators may react by thinking: 'Can I believe what I am seeing ?'

The fear is that because some of the attraction of athletics is in witnessing records, people will turn away from the sport if they wonder whether the performance was partly achieved with banned drugs.

European Athletics has proposed that world and European records set before 2005 will be set aside and the sport will start again. Since 2005, urine and blood samples have been stored for reanalysis.

Svein-Arne Hansen, the President of European Athletics, said after a meeting of his Council in Paris, which unanimously accepted the recommendation of its working party, that the move was "revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition to a point where everyone can be confident that everything can be above board."

So records cannot be set at minor meetings and the samples from athletes breaking Europeans records will be kept for 10 years and liable for retesting. And if the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) agrees with the proposal in August then this will be carried out worldwide.

Among the athletes, who would then 'lose' their world records are: American Mike Powell's long jump of 8.95 metres in 1991, the triple jump of 18.29 metres in 1995 by Briton Jonathan Edwards, the 2 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds in a mixed-race marathon by Briton Paula Radcliffe and, more significantly, some of the East German performances of the 1980s as well as American Florence Griffith-Joyner's sprint times in 1988.

Sebastian Coe, now the IAAF President, will also see his time of 2 minutes 12.8 seconds no longer be a European record. Yet Lord Coe is backing the idea. He said that it underlined that the governing bodies were putting into place systems and technology that were more effective than up to 10 years ago.

However, he recognised that there will be competitors, who are currently record-holders and who will be unhappy that their performances have been called into question, and he emphasised that such a decision for world records would have to be agreed by all the area associations.

Radcliffe, a long-time campaigner against doping, was one of the first to express her annoyance, describing it as a "slapdash attempt for good PR; well-intentioned but flawed. Something does need to be done but this is not the answer.

"It is yet one more way that clean athletes are made to suffer for the actions of cheats. I feel offended that this move challenges my integrity and credibility and replaces marks I I worked very hard for with those that, in my opinion, have even less credibility."

Weightlifting, where the problem of doping has been even more acute, than in athletics, got round the problem by twice altering the weight categories, first in 1992 and then again in 1998. On each occasion new world records were established. Athletics, with no weight categories, cannot do this.

 However, these actions had no effect on weightlifting as the deplorable series of positive tests at recent Olympics emphasises. World records in athletics can have financial rewards, far greater than in weightlifting.

Will shoe companies, for instance, consider putting bonuses in a trust fund for 10 years to ensure that as far as possible the athlete is clean before paying the athlete? That would be a more effective deterrent than the possibility of having the world or European record expunged.

One is not necessarily against the action of European Athletics but it needs to be accompanied by some financial measures to have greater force.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

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