Sportsthoughts (51) – Problems, problems… doping, racism

If you read my blogs regularly, you’ll know my focus is on the feelgood factor. My music pieces are totally that way, same with the photos. And sport, well I indulge in a bit of football criticism, but it’s mostly about the love.

But two things are lurking in the dark background at the moment, and I feel the urge to say something about them. They were crystallised by BBC Radio 5 Live tonight. If you live in the UK you can hear the broadcast on BBC iPlayer if you are so inclined. Mark Chapman’s show.

The first is doping and drugs in cycling. We have had such a brilliant summer of racing.  Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish sweeping up the stages. Then the tremendous performances in the Olympics and Paralympics. And then, to cap it all, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke winning the Tour of Britain.  The best time ever for cycling.

But then all the news about Lance Armstrong and the doping and drugs, and intimidation and general wrong-doing. No longer deniable, a whole era of road racing completely discredited. With suspicions lingering, no doubt, about today’s riders.

I must admit that I used to feel rather ambivalent about the situation.  A bit of me wanted Lance Armstrong to be found innocent because he was just such a brilliant cyclist. Another bit said anyone must need a bit of help cycling up and down Alp d’Huez, it’s just a challenge beyond normal human capability. So maybe too much is banned. But I knew that was probably wrong, and the revelations of the last few weeks pretty much prove that.

The bottom line on drugs in sport is that, notwithstanding the fact that at the elite level you could just about make a case for saying that it’s all about maximising performance (like technology in Formula 1 racing), it’s how it then filters down to sport in general. Allow the drugs and you’ll have kids being forced into taking things that could cause them long term harm. Clearly not acceptable.

So Radio 5 Live had an interview tonight with Dave Brailsford, the man in charge of the Team Sky road racers, as well as the team GB Olympic cyclists. He was outlining the Team Sky policy of asking every member of the team – cyclists, coaches, other staff – making a declaration that they have never been involved in any doping or drugs. As a result, a coach, Bobby Julich, resigned today. It’s a brave policy, based on trust. No investigations are planned. I guess that means the press will be probing, trying to find someone who should have confessed but didn’t.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all our heroes of the last few months pass the test. I have no reason to doubt them.  But even so, I’m nervous. I don’t want the dream to be shattered…

And then football. What a tangle it is in. Sticking to the single issue of racism now. It’s in a mess in so many other respects too, though we can’t also ignore that fact that the Premier League is hugely entertaining. And I am delighted that West Ham are back in it and doing well.

I could be could be complacent and say “Racism ain’t what it used to be”. Thank God. In the early eighties I used to go to just about every West Ham home game. Bananas were frequently thrown on the pitch at black players. Really. It’s just astonishing to think of that now, but it was almost accepted then as an unfortunate but immovable part of the live experience. Shocking, looking back.

I’m so glad that that behaviour is no longer prevalent at English games, but there is no denying that some appalling chanting remains. It may not be racist, but it’s every other -ist.

The focus on racism in this country is not currently about the fans, but the players. We had the Luis Suarez/Patrick Evra incident, which inflamed the already atrocious Man Utd/ Liverpool relations.  Suarez eventually got an eight game ban. Then the John Terry/ Anton Ferdinand incident. Terry was found innocent by a magistrates court, but the Football Association (FA) held their own inquiry, under civil justice rules.  They found him guilty of racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand, but only suspended him for four games, versus Suarez’s eight.

That more lenient ban (though arguably Terry has suffered in other ways like having no choice but to retire from international football) has caused outrage, amongst black footballers in particular. That is entirely understandable. There have been boycotts by black players of the FA-sponsored ‘Kick It Out” campaign T-shirts, and a sense that things are now going to get uglier.

Again, Radio 5 Live tonight had an interview tonight which summed up the issues perfectly. Les Ferdinand, ex England centre forward, QPR, Newcastle, Spurs player, amongst others, spoke passionately about the issues. His message was that the time for compromise and secrecy was over. You just couldn’t argue with his logic. Why should any player in our country have to take any crap about his (or her) race in 2012?

So Terry’s four match ban and retention of the Chelsea captain’s arm band seems wrong from the wider perspective, even if the club’s support for their captain is understandable.

It means that anger is growing and might just lead to some kind of confrontation between black players and the FA, or clubs, or individual players. The irony is that England has probably made more progress than most countries in eradicating racism from sport, but the expectations are (rightly) higher as a result.

I do hope that the different parties can find a way forward because a positive legacy needs to be left to future generations. I have been struck by how race just isn’t an issue for my childrens’ generations (17 and 13 years old at the moment). They have NEVER mentioned a persons’s skin colour to me. It just isn’t relevant to them. This is how it needs to be throughout society. It’s incumbent therefore, on the generations now in charge of things not to dump their own prejudices on the younger generations.

We can only hope and pray…

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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2 Responses to Sportsthoughts (51) – Problems, problems… doping, racism

  1. JE says:

    Hi John:

    Still working my way through past blogs, as you see…..

    I liked your piece here very much, and there’s absolutely no harm in getting a bit serious now and again! It’s difficult to argue with anything you say, especially on the racism issue.

    But in both areas, I’m reminded that what could be termed cultural change – in the broadest sense – in the last twenty years has made matters ever more complicated. In football I’m talking about technology (Sky, multiple camera angles,referees’ microphones, specialist lip-readers, re-tweets, etc. etc.) as well as broader cultural issues like linguistic difference (e.g. Suarez’s attempted defence of what he said to Evra), celebrity, politics – where everyone has to have their say – and, yes, money. Of course none of this excuses what has gone on, but it has certainly made attempts to mitigate it more complex and often more problematic.

    With cycling, I think it’s slightly more straightforward. In the period of Armstrong’s dominance it used to happen everywhere, with almost everyone, which is why attempts to re-award Tour podium places are often farcical. Doping was, if not sanctioned, certainly glossed over. Now, of course, the price must be paid, but – like you – I feel a little queasy with the vilification that Armstrong has suffered as a result.

    I do recommend David Miller’s searing autobiography, Racing Through the Dark, which I read a couple of weeks ago, and which really tells it like it is. He’s a complicated man – vain, vulnerable, arrogant, self-knowing – but the story lays out the dilemma, and its consequences, brilliantly.

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