Traditionally the diverse range of sporting events falling under the category of athletics have been associated with integrity, honour and honest effort, however the changing face of today’s contemporary society and the attitudes, morals and standards existing within it has brought with it many changes to this ancient sport.
From these changes the following hypothesis was formulated. “The modern day perception of athletics is one that, for me, is very detrimental to the sports high popularity, ancient rituals and traditions. Due to the commercialisation of the sport, the financial incentive for athletics to succeed far outweighs the motivation for personal achievement and fair competition. This has lead to unfair means being adopted by athletes in order to succeed, such as the use of performance enhancing drugs. It is because of these ‘cheats’ that this once noble sport, based on hard work, individual achievement and sportsmanship has been degrade into a sport of greed and winning at all costs. The increase in the number of athletes using these drugs is inversely proportional to my personal interest and participation in the sport.”
This hypothesis accurately summarises athletics current state and the opinion held by more and more members of the general public.
Commercialisation has brought with it many positive aspects to athletics including higher recognition for talented athletes, increased financial rewards and increased media coverage but commercialisation, sponsorship and media involvement have also contributed largely to the demise of the sports good standing. All of the above topics are derived from monetary involvement and this can be related to the common saying ‘money is the root of all evil’. The weak character of drug-using athletes is not the sole reason for the gradual destruction of athletics image, increased pressure to succeed resulting from the huge financial incentives involved primarily with being the worlds best at an event is one of the greatest reasons for athletes resorting to dishonest means. This is supported by a recent comments by Werner Reiterer, a dual Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallist, in his book “Positive”. Reiterer states that he decided to take drugs to make him competitive at an Olympic level, after winning Commonwealth gold at the 1994 Canada games. He also states “high-ranking Australian officials turned a blind eye” to his drug taking and even assisted him with information in some cases.
In a recent Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article, Australian athlete and Atlanta Olympics 400m participant, Paul Greene said that the current way in which sports funding are linked to the number of medals was a “direct reward and encouragement for dopers”. He later said about high-ranking Australian sporting officials, “Stay clean and come fourth, and you’re back waiting on tables. Take the pill and come third—and we’ll pay your way.” These comments made by Greene were after his funding was cut after returning medal-less from the Atlanta games in 1996.
Such is the financial reward for gold medallists that Cathy Freeman after her recent Gold medal win she received a payment of four hundred thousand dollars but is expected to earn in excess of three million dollars in the next three years through sponsorship and endorsements.
Such are the pressures for success that athletes are overlooking the serious health risks associated with performance enhancing and growth promoting agents. A prime example lies within the statistics that as a result of using Erythropoietin (a relatively new breed of drug which stimulates bone marrow to produce more red blood cell), twenty to twenty-five young athletes have died in their sleep due to a vicious reaction to the stimulant. Another key indicator to the degree of pressure and incentive for athletes to cheat is the fact that many athletes not only risk death but will pay in excess of one thousand dollars per injection of this powerful yet potentially lethal drug.
Media coverage can provide athletes and athletic events with positive recognition and coverage however the amount of negative coverage surrounding the current athletic environment is rivalling the good coverage. Although it is only a minority of athletes indulging in these unfair practices, a majority of media coverage is focused on this group, which affects all athletes. It lessens the enjoyment and satisfaction of winning honestly due to the scrutiny surrounding drugs in athletics, dishonest athletes and officials. Fitting perfectly to the theme is the case of C J Hunter, the champion American shot putter and husband of world champion sprint marvel Marion Jones. Hunter tested positive four times within one year to the steroid ‘nandralone’. This information was released during the Sydney Olympics, which sparked a media frenzy. Hunter repeatedly claimed his innocence however despite the truth of his claims, his reputation was badly scarred however it also cast doubt over the amazing achievements of his wife and in reality the whole of the American track and field team suffered from this coverage.
It is obvious that performance enhancing drug use is on the rise with thirty-five cheats identified and disciplined before and during the Sydney Olympic games. As the hypothesis states personal interest and participation is inversely proportional to the increase in drug use within athletics. There is no longer any incentive for personal bests, individual achievement or just pure enjoyment in participation, rewards and incentives are only for the winner of a championship race and are financially based. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Jim Millman, chief executive of a US-based sport-marketing group, when he stated, “Winning the gold medal is mandatory from a marketing perspective. There is little commercial value in winning silver or bronze.” This attitude is also adopted by spectators and participants alike, meaning that winning is the only thing that matters and that it should come at all costs. No longer is it a sport to be enjoyed by all, only the select few elite athletes that have access to the best in performance boosting drugs gain any recognition and their satisfaction is through monetary reward. For the average man or woman there is no longer any enjoyment in being involved with athletics whether it be from a spectators perspective, when watching a group of athletes compete for who has the best drug available, or for participating, when your honest personal best is substantially eclipsed by a less talented competitor who has a better drug than you.