“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is” – Vince Lombardi, great American Football coach.
Sports, especially when played on a professional level, requires physical and mental fortitude of the highest order. The reason why a Michael Jordan still inspires millions of people to pick up a ball and play hoops is not just because of his phenomenal success, fame and money; but also because of the means he used to achieve those. Sachin Tendulkar‘s godlike status is not merely because of his cricketing exploits but also because he is a role model for generations of aspiring cricketers. Unfortunately, in the quest for success, sportsmen sometimes blur the lines between right and wrong. The pressure of expectations and the desire to win pushes them to resort to unfair means. Ever so often, we see celebrated athletes fall from the lofty pedestals we build for them. Sometimes knowingly and on rare occasions unknowingly, athletes end up using perform enhancing drugs to cross that extra mile. Perhaps it’s the hope that they will not be caught that drives them to such extreme action. But there can be no justification for cheating and lying. There is no grey here. The very foundation of sports is based on natural talent, hard work and commitment and no matter how deserving a player might be, true success should be based on this foundation.
The menace of doping and drugs is not limited to any particular sport. Athletics, tennis, cricket, boxing all have been subject to intense scrutiny at some time or the other. Olympics in particular- the greatest celebration of sports and sportsmen – has been at the center of several storms. These incidents destroy not just the image of the player or team in question, but also harm the credibility of the entire sport. A great shame indeed!
The higher they rise, the harder they fall. One of the most celebrated athletes on the planet, 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was perfect. Champion, philanthropist, loved by women and a comeback to beat all comebacks. His fight against cancer and subsequent return to competitive cycling are folklore now. Despite being dogged by doping allegations for some years now, Lance Armstrong maintained a very strong position on the issue – that of denial. This is what makes his admission of guilt, in a smartly orchestrated interview with Oprah Winfrey, so much more sensational. The meticulous planning that went behind enabling the US cycling team to achieve success is common knowledge now. The details and execution of it makes one not just hate Lance Armstrong as a sportsman but also disrespect him as a human being.
2. Marion Jones
I remember a smiling Marion Jones from the numerous photos I saw of hers in the newspapers. I was a school going kid back then, but her affable personality and success on the field made her an immediate role model. Alas, disappointment followed, but after 7 long years of denial and lying. Marion Jones admitted to the use of steroids prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympic games where she won 5 medals which included 3 golds.
3. Shoaib Akhtar
Cricket’s poster child for bad behaviour, Akhtar’s career was plagued by one controversy after the other. In 2006 though, his career took a turn for the worst when he and teammate Mohammed Asif tested positive for a banned drug. There were shrouds of doubt over his ‘steroids and drug use’ earlier as well but this was the first time that proper allegations were formed and the result – a two year ban from the game. Not only did he destroy his own career, he also cast suspicion upon his teammates and the sport in general.
4. Martina Hingis
Given the recent spate of controversies across all sports, Tennis and use of drugs in the sport has also come under intense scrutiny. Fortunately, the top male and female athletes in tennis have a very clean image and are pretty vocal themselves about the use of drugs. But the sport has had incidents of substance abuse. Who can forget Agassi’s admission in his autobiography that also brought to light the role of the authorities in this matter? On a personal level though, I can never forget the allegations around the Swiss Miss herself. Often regarded as one of the finest and most popular female tennis players, Hingis tested positive for cocaine in 2007 after her second coming into professional tennis. She had taken a break from the game due to injuries in 2002. Although she admitted the test, she never contested it and retired from the game albeit on murky grounds.
Closer home, six Indian athletes who failed a dope test were given bans. This included Asian Games double gold medallist Ashwini Akkunji. Most of the accused feigned ignorance about the drugs and stated that their coaches/mentors provided it to them as part of their food supplements. Athletes, especially young ones, need to be educated perhaps about the various forms of substance abuse and how to avoid becoming a victim as well.
The culture of doping and drug abuse has been prevalent in sports for long time now. Despite the best efforts of anti doping agencies and authorities, the strong desire to win and sometimes ignorance lead players make choices that they sooner or later regret.