Ever since athletics was first rocked by its ongoing and highly volatile doping scandal at the end of 2015, a massive amount of soul searching has taken place by the key figures throughout the sport. Key questions have had to be answered. How could cheating on this scale have been covered up? Should Russia be allowed to compete in upcoming competitions after allegations of ‘systematic doping’ by the country’s athletes? And, more recently, should world records be reset given many of them could have been set by some of those cheating?
UK Athletics has claimed that such a move could herald a ‘new era’ in the sport, where no doubt its leaders will be anxious to put this sorry affair behind them and concentrate on what really matters – the sport. It’s just one of a number of measures suggested by the British governing body to try and restore confidence in the integrity of athletics going into this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.
The idea has proved a divisive one, however, with former 110m hurdles World Champion Colin Jackson speaking out against the proposed ban, suggesting that ‘world records are world records’, and that elite athletes such as British triple jumper Jonathon Edwards could see their records unfairly taken away from them. As an alternative he has suggested the IAAF and other bodies work hard to find out exactly which record breakers were the dopers, and to wipe their records instead, but with some of these still lasting from the mid-1980s this is a mammoth, and frankly, impossible task. Despite this, high-profile names such as marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe and six-times Olympic champion Usain Bolt are amongst those to agree with Jackson, with Bolt branding UK Athletics’ proposal ‘really pointless’, and calling on all in the sport to ‘build on the future’ rather than concerning themselves with the past. Bolt is not alone in his calls for the reforms and investigations to focus on the future, and with the whole of the Russian team facing the possibility of missing Rio due to the allegations levelled against them, some will claim that there are more important matters to prioritise, rather than worrying about illegitimate practices in a bygone era.
In the midst of what is clearly a controversial debate on some of the sport’s most important honours, IAAF President Sebastian Coe has suggest a compromise whereby ‘suspicious’ records would be erased. This wouldn’t necessarily require hard evidence on the specific occasion the record was set, but would affect former athletes and record holders such as shot-putter Randy Barnes, who was later handed a life ban for use of steroids. The reality is that if the records are not all wiped clean, some that were fraudulently obtained will inevitably remain in the history books. This is the unfortunate price of allowing some of the greatest athletes of all-time the glory and recognition they deserve.
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