Is any sport for real

By Ross Pringle

Ever since people first started competing in sporting activities, there are those who have looked to gain an advantage, to wrest the upper hand from their opponent.

Mostly those endeavours have been legitimate. As technology has developed, along with our knowledge of human anatomy, so too have these efforts to heighten your chances of success become more complex, and seemingly dubious in their nature.

There is a saying that cheats never prosper and, in the sense that they can never claim to have genuinely competed and won, that is true. However there are countless times where a tactic or device that might be considered underhand has been employed, with the rules seemingly bent to a competitor's favour.

Everyone is leveraging something to gain an advantage. The human body has not been immune. Nutrition, training and recovery techniques and use of legal supplements have seen records tumble and seen bigger, faster stronger athletes. Much has been written of the evolution of rugby players such that the All Blacks of today are a far different specimen to those of just a few years ago.

But recently some extreme cases have emerged, such as major match-fixing allegations in European football, cycling's greatest cheat finally coming clean and now revelations of widespread doping across the Tasman involving numerous codes. In Australia a report alleged drug-taking, match-fixing and links to organised crime across a number of sporting codes.

You have to wonder if there are any genuine sporting contests at the top level.

Many will point to professionalism and the money that is at stake as the root cause of this unsportsmanlike behaviour with a win-at-all-costs attitude over-riding the barometer of right and wrong.

The revelations involving Australian sport are a little too close to home. We have many teams and athletes involved in competition there so that means the reputations of our athletes could be tarnished by association.

Chef de mission Rob Waddell was adamant in his assurances our Olympic athletes were clean, and testing protocols at that level were robust. But history would suggest cheats have found a way around the rules and attempts to keep sports clean - people like Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson - who may eventually have been found out but for a while at least cheated their way to success. We don't know about those who get away with it.

Others are unwitting victims of coaches or their own vanity and not knowing the rules on banned substances. The case of Kiwi tennis player Mark Nielsen springs to mind; he was banned for two years for taking a banned substance which was contained in a hair loss treatment.

It must be hard for athletes these days with all the supplements and concoctions available to know what is and isn't allowed. Auckland rugby chief Andy Dalton yesterday explained the effort that went in to determining the legal from illegal substances so players didn't expose themselves to any risk.

It begs the question though, if performance-enhancing substances are not allowed, how else would you define the many products that are used as a matter of routine? The legal drinks that replenish your depleted resources, rehydrate your body, or compounds that help build muscle?

How is a tonic that helps you recover any different to getting a blood transfusion or EPO?

For the most part these issues are at the elite level but they filter down as younger athletes and those in lower grades look to emulate the superstars or aspire to sport as a career.

It makes me wonder what ever happened to sport, for genuine pleasure, companionship and competition? I guess for the answer to that, I'll just head to Springvale Park and check out the Masters Games.


- Wanganui Chronicle

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