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Rediff.com  » Sports » Doping, truth and the media

Doping, truth and the media

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August 01, 2006 17:39 IST
One of the greatest realities today is that what appears as truth, is often untrue, or at best half true; and what people think as untrue, or not politically correct, is often much nearer to the truth than we think.

In the 21st century, more than anybody else, the media has become the magician of modern times, often making untruth appear as truth and truth appear as untruth.

Take, for instance, the recent cases of US sprinter Justin Gatlin and cyclist Floyd Landis, who have become, at the hands of the media, the villains of the day -- the same media, both international and Indian, that for long eulogised them, carried them to the pinnacle of glory, making then of them modern day heroes.

The untruth goes like this. Landis and Gatlin are the great cheaters, they have taken performance-enhancing substances. They have disgraced the world of sport, they have broken the ethics of good sportsmanship. They will be thus banned, stripped of their titles and generally disgraced.

But look at it like this: It is not the Landis or the Gatlins who are responsible for doping, or the performance-enhancing substances that are taking over world sport more and more in nearly all disciplines, but the organisers, the sponsors, and particularly the television channels.

If you take the Tour de France, for instance, you will notice that every year it has become more and more difficult, with longer and longer and longer stages, more and more demanding mountain climbs.

Why? Because television channels want more and more sensational footage, more and more dramatic finishes, where players collapse at the rear end and where one single 'hero' sizzles up everybody and rides a lonely death to the finishing line.

In turn, the sponsors put more and more and more pressure on the organisers for the spectacular, the sensational, the dramatic. And the Tour de France is like a drug: the longer you're on it, the more drugs you take to get a kick.

In the same way, the television viewer wants more and more action, more blood every year. It is like the old time gladiators in the Roman games where someone had to die.

Thus, Landis or Gatlin are only victims of the greed of television: they have to perform in harsher and harsher conditions, their bodies are submitted to more and more demanding stress. And they are not supermen, however much they practice and however much they build their bodies.

How far more can the world record for the 100 metres go down to? Scientists already feel that the present 9.77 seconds is the fastest that a human body can run. But don't worry it will still go down and be broken again and again: sponsorship, spectacle and viewer interest demand it.

And another Gatlin will find another performance enhancing drug, which has not yet been traced. And then he will get caught and disgraced.

But the ultimate irony is that the first to condemn Gatlin or Landis are the organisers, the sponsors, and the media, those who made millions out of them. Because make no mistake, the billion of dollars earned in the Olympic games or in Le Tour de France by the organisers and the televisions channels are made on the sweat and blood of not only the Landis' and Gatlins, but also of the thousands of faceless athletes who struggle, come last and about whom nobody speaks.

Yet they are very much part of the spectacle, which could not happen without them, as there can be no winners without worthy losers.

Oh, what hypocrites, these sponsors, television and organisers are. It is they who should be condemned by the media, these armchair athletes, these vampires of others' efforts, who have never trained for hundred of hours, sweating their guts day after day, known the pain of losing, the loneliness of hotel rooms after a difficult day, the struggle of being a small time athlete, struggling to make ends meet when one has not yet reached glory and fame.

And what is doping after all? It is the logical continuation of the 'natural' medication the team doctor starts giving to a runner, a cyclist or a footballer: vitamins, proteins, or tonics. Slowly under pressure to perform more and more, faster and faster, with more and more competition at hand, the athlete turns to aspirin when he has an ache here and there, and eventually to some amphetamine.

From there, there is no turning back. Don't blame him, blame the demands made on his body by the rapacious sponsors and media barons.

It is all about money, brothers and sisters, not sport. Nevertheless, even in the midst of this untruth, of this race for sensationalism, blood and death, sport triumphs. There is always that magical moment when the tennis player forgets about the millions of dollars he or she is going to make -- or lose -- the performance enhancers he may or may not have taken and surpasses himself, or herself, a moment of pure sporting miracle. This is what we should remember.

Nobody can take away from Gatlin the fact that he ran the 100 metres in 9.77 seconds, or from Landis that he won the Tour de France with only one hip. Testosterone or no testosterone. If you are not talented, you can take any amounts of testosterone, it will not make you into a Gatlin, a Landis, or even a Ben Johnson.

The media is so unfair. It's all about untruth taking the appearance of truth. And what is valid for sports is even more valid for the world of politics. But that is another story.

Francois Gautier, who usually contributes columns to our news pages, plays basketball and tennis and jogs.

Francois Gautier

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