|SPORT TRIBUNE||Saturday, September 2, 2000, Chandigarh, India|
Changing face of Australian sport
Asian style vs European style
Taking health risks seriously
Drug-infested Olympic Games
THERE is an ill wind blowing through the world of sports these days. Ever since star sprinter Ben Johnson of Canada was stripped of his 100 metres title at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, after being caught taking banned drugs, a host of world class athletes have tested positive for performance enhancing substances.
Several have recently faced daunting struggles to clear their names. Linford Christie, Britains 100 gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, allegedly tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone (used to stimulate muscle growth) at a meet in Dortmund, Germany, in February this year. In late August, the International Amateur Athletics Federation served a two-year ban on him.
Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, winner of seven Olympic medals, was found to have tested positive for nandrolone in Lucerne, Switzerland, In July 1999. Determined to establish her innocence so that she could compete in her final Olympics this year at the age of 40, Ottey appeared before an IAAF arbitration panel in June and succeeded in clearing her name.
And Javier Sotomayer of Cuba the first high jumper to clear 8 ft (2.4 metres), gold medallist in Barcelona and current holder of the World record (2.45 metres) is alleged to have tested positive for cocaine at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, last year.
On the one hand it appears ludicrous that an athlete of Sotomayers reputation-who has taken eight doping tests this year and more than 60 during his career would want to take a recreational drug like cocaine. Jose Ramon Fernandez, head of Cubas Olympic Committee, says. Cuba believes in Sotomayers innocence, his integrity and his ethics. Cuba knows his conduct and the respect he enjoys around the world.
On the other hand, cocaine is not just a highly addictive drug which gives thrill-seekers a dangerous high. It is also a potent stimulant which can give that extra little fillip to a determined high jumpers flip.
It is noteworthy that although new methods of detecting performance-enhancing drugs are being discovered, there is a definite reluctance by sports authorities to accept them- or even to encourage research into their development.
Whether it is Canada, Cuba or China, the initial reaction of authorities is always to appear dumbfounded when one of their athletes is accused of taking drugs. They defend their charges vigorously, saying it was a conspiracy, naive error in testing or even a mix-up of samples, and casting aspersions on the motives of the accusers until it is proved beyond any doubt that the allegations are true.
Take the case of Werner Reiterer, a former Australian Olympic discus thrower and gold medallist at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, who rocked the sporting community when he decided to documentor his experiences. In his book, Positive, published in July, Reiterer makes the claim that many Australian athletes and swimmers were taking drugs. Here was I doping for gold, he writes, another guilty athlete swallowed up by a massive sporting culture.
But in response the Australian Olympics Committee did not launch an enquiry they simply arranged a meeting with Reiterer. He emerged refusing to name names, having been offered a position as Drug Educator at the Sydney Olympic Games. Everything is now forgiven.
One only has to look at famous sports people of yesteryear who appear on television to see they have become a mere shadow of their former selves. While muscle tone does wane with age, what we see are bodies that have shrunk almost beyond recognition after the body-building drugs have been withdrawn.
Meanwhile, American athletes are rarely caught out by a random drug test. This is not so much a sign that they are squeaky clean, but that they benefit from a quaint rule that exempts them from drug tests if they are 129 km away from the test site.
It is not uncommon for sportsmen, on being tipped off, to get into their cars, drive a safe distance away and make a telephone call to say that they are unavailable for testing.
Could international sports survive in the 21st century if all those taking drugs were caught? I think not. I dont believe that the likes of Mc Donalds or Coca-Cola or Ansett Airlines would want to pour their money into a drug-infested Olympic Games. The authorities know this too, hence cover-up after cover-up.
The most important thing in the Olympic Games, said Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, is not to win but to take part just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.
The Baron would be
saddened if he knew that after 100 years of modern
Olympics, it appears that the criterion for success these
days is not just winning- but being able to win without
being found out. Gemini News
Changing face of Australian sport
THE list of Australian medal winners at the Olympic Games a century ago could easily be mistaken for a team from the British Isles. Australians in those days considered themselves so much an extension of Britain that, when they lacked the numbers to participate in team events, they joined up with the British. Stan Rowley, for example, won one of his three bronze medals at the 1900 Paris Olympics as a member of the British 5,000-metre team.
The first swimmers from Australia to win medals at the 1912 Stockholm Games, Cecil Healy and Harry Hardwick among the men and Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie for the women, were all white, essentially Anglo-Celtic and predominantly Protestant.
Throughout the past 100 years, during which Australia has competed in every single Olympic Games, its athletes, who have won a total of 62 individual gold medals, have all been white.
But the make-up of Australian sports is changing as multicultural immigration gradually blurs the nations ethnic dividing lines. A recent study by Melbournes Monash University showed that the proportion of Anglo-Celtic population has fallen from 90 per cent just after World War II to 70 per cent in 1999. Projections indicate that if recent trends continue, in another 35 years the figure will fall to 62 per cent.
This years Australian Olympic team boasts not only traditional Aussie names such as Thorpe, ONeill and Perkins it also has sportsmen and women with names like Olevsky, Gregorieva, Van Heer and Kneebone.
Among those picked for the 2000 Games is Bulgarian-born weightlifter Kiril Kounev who has competed for Australia for the past 10 years, winning six gold medals at the last two Commonwealth Games and narrowly missing the bronze at the Atlanta Olympics. He makes use of his Bulgarian contacts to do part of his training in that country, long regarded as a powerhouse of weightlifting. Russian-born Irena Olevsky, along with Naomi Young makes up a highly-rated synchronised swimming team. Silver medallists at the last Commonwealth Games, they train harder than those competing in the traditional swimming events spending nearly six hours in water each day in addition to weight training and land drills.
One routine they are practising for the Olympics will be performed in sparkling gold and green costumes and set to a medley of Australian folk songs something set to inspire the home crowd to cheer them on.
Certainly one of the most pleasing sights at the Sydney Olympics will be the participation of indigenous Australians. Until 1967 denied even the basic right of citizenship in a country inhabited by their ancestors for over 40,000 years, Australian Aboriginals are still among the poorest populations in the developed world. But they will be conspicuous by their presence at the 2000 Games.
Kept out of sports, as in all other walks of life, it was only in 1996 that an Aboriginal athlete won an Olympic gold meal Nova Peris-Kneebone as a member of Australias 1996 hockey team. Switching from hockey to athletics after the Atlanta Games, the talented Peris-Kneebone again struck gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games as a member of the 100-metre relay team.
Probably the most high profile Aboriginal athlete today is 400-metre-runner Cathy Freeman, silver medallist at Atlanta and winner of the event at the last two world championships. Freeman, (26) first hit the headlines at the 1994 Commonwealth Games when, after winning the 400-metres gold medal, she ran a victory lap draped in the red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag.
Among the most eagerly awaited contests at the Sydney Games will be between home-grown heroine Freeman (the first Aborigine to run for her country at the Olympics) and Marie-Jose Perec, the Frenchwoman who beat her for the gold medal at Atlanta.
Another Aboriginal athlete vying for selection at the Olympic trials is Patrick Johnson from the Umpila tribe of north Queensland. Raised on his fathers fishing boat in Cairns, he went on to university where he studied politics and Asian studies before getting a job with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Described by sports writer Ron Reed as the fastest man in Australia this year, Johnson trains six hours a day at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
Add to this lot two Russian-born pole vaulters, a Sri Lankan-born sprinter, and Italian-speaking marathon runner Silvana Trampuz and you have a multicultural, multilingual, multicoloured Australian team.
This doesnt sit well with everybody. The 1998 Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist heather Turland gave vent to her feelings on TVs Today show when she objected to Trampuz being selected for the Olympic team. Just because Trampuz holds an Australian passport and was born in Australia, she is allowed to run for Australia. That is the legal side of it but certainly ethically I dont know that Australian people agree with that.
Turlands attack may have been motivated by the fact that she failed to qualify for the Olympic team at the World Athletics Championships in August last year, while Trampuz easily met the qualifying mark in the event. Turland struggled in that race and pulled out after 25 km.
But in her TV interview she claimed: This is really about Australians running for Australia and I guess thats what the Australian people want.
This begs the question Who is an Australian? The fact is that today, people like Trampuz, Olevsky, Kounev and Freeman are just as Australian as Turland and her ilk. And uniting all this sporting talent under the Australian flag can only augur well for the nation in its quest for Olympic glory.
In 1956, when Australia last staged the Games, the last lap in Olympic torch relay was run by a young (white) man Ron Clarke, who went on to become one of the greatest distance runners Australia ever produced. At the 2000 Olympics, the first Australian to run with the torch after it landed on Australian soil in August was none other than Nova Peris-Kneebone.
Asian style vs European style
IT has been 16 years since Pakistan won an Olympic gold medal in mens hockey and thats rather a long time for a country which once so dominated the sport that wherever it played the only question for bookies was who would come second.
But as Pakistans class of 2000 left for Sydney in August, seeking the gold that has dodged them since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, not many pinned their hopes on the team. Internal bickering within the Pakistan Hockey Federation has hampered preparations, ending with a new management taking over just weeks before the teams departure for warm-up matches in Australia and New Zealand.
The sudden arrival on the scene of two serving army officers Lt-Gen. Mohammad Aziz as the head of the Federation and Brig Musrattullah Khan as the Secretary may well have complicated matters.
For the national training camp, which appeared to be running smoothly in the port city of Karachi, was inexplicably moved to Wah, a small town on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad, upsetting the momentum of the team.
But team manager Islahuddin Siddique, in charge of his third Olympic team after Seoul 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, argues that Sydney could well turn things around: bad luck eluded us from achieving the desired results in the past Olympics. This time, however, I am confident we are going to win it.
But grabbing a gold will be a tall order for a side that lacks consistency and is without any star names for the first time in many years.
The state of hockey in Pakistan just like in neighbouring India is in the doldrums. Before Indias Partition in 1947, the country had total domination of the sport, winning all six Olympic golds and 30 consecutive games from 1928 to 1956, before Pakistan broke the stranglehold in 1960. Pakistan rose metrically after that until the 1980s, which saw the rise of Australia and Europe in tandem with the introduction of the artificial Astroturf surface in place of grass.
India has not won an Olympic gold since the 1980 Moscow Olympics a game that suffered from a cold-war boycott by the West and its allies, including Pakistan.
And Pakistan, which once held the Olympic gold, the World Cup, the Junior World Cup and the Champions Trophy, is without a title today. The three-times winner of the Olympic gold (1960, 1968 and 1984) took the bronze in 1992 and ended up sixth in Atlanta, its worst-ever showing.
It had to suffer the humiliation of playing qualifying rounds for Sydney.
Pakistani players and experts alike give many reasons for this state of affairs. At one time an important event in the sports calendar, the National Hockey Championship is no longer held regularly. There is a dearth of the expensive Astroturf pitches.
The youth rarely take up hockey any more-to them cricket is more attractive and rewarding, for that is where all the money is . Shoaib Akhtar, the worlds fastest bowler, has become a millionaire in a short period of time. Hockey players can only look at them with awe.
With no major trophies coming home, the games following has fallen drastically. The common perception is that poor administration is to blame. No one seems sincere about the sport. All their claims are just hollow, says Shehryar Khan, a college student.
The new PHF Boss, Lt-Gen, Aziz announced soon after assuming charge that he would focus on the grassroots level. But critics say Aziz, being a serving army officer, is not likely have much time for hockey, something he denies. Mine will be a supervisory role. Whenever the PHF needs me I will be available.
He admits he may not be able to visit the grounds regularly, but says: I assure you that I will be there to guide the Federation.
The person who laments this decline the most is former Olympian and manager Shahnaz Sheikh. We have to adopt the fast changing system by making modifications in our style of play. The Asian pattern of fast flowing hockey is good only if theres 100 per cent perfection in attack. If that is not the case, then we have to adjust ourselves accordingly, the great inside-left says.
We used to beat the Europeans because our percentage of attack was very good. Sadly this is not so anymore. we got for individual brilliance while our European rivals play an attack in groups.
With the Pakistan hockey
scenario presenting a depressing picture, say critics, a
major surgery is needed in the system if the country is
to realise its dreams of reviving the golden age of Asian
hockey. Gemini News.
Taking health risks seriously
SEX is not yet a designated competitive event at the Olympic Games, but that doesnt mean there wont be plenty of it going on after the torch is lit on September 15. The Philippine squad certainly is taking no chances.
Neither is the Sydney Olympic Games Official Committee (SOCOG) complacent about the possible consequences, although the incidence of AIDS in Australia is one of the lowest in the world. A have safe sex parade will pass through the city before the Games begin. The New South Wales health guide welcomes the expected half a million visitors with a reminder to use a condom if you have casual sex. Ansell, the official supplier to the Games, says it will make 100,000 condoms freely available to athletes.
A SOCOG report says condoms will be available at sites all over the athletes village, although it will not be including any in the individual welcome packs.
The small Philippine contingent of 27 athletes and 20 officials is expected to pack its own supply inside travelling bags before it heads off to Sydney. That no one wants to admit it is not surprising.
Benny Llapitan Jr., communications director of DKT, a condom marketing firm in Manila says: Talking about sexual needs remains difficult among Filipinos. Most dont want to discuss it. Filipinos never run out of excuses not to use condoms. Its all rooted in misconception and hypocrisy.
But that may be changing, now it is known that in south-east Asia 700,000 individuals were living with HIV in 1998, the latest year for which figures are available. Although the Philippines has a low recorded incidence of 0.7 per cent, the actual number of HIV cases may be much greater.
Dr Loreto Roquero, Director of the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention and Control Programme of the Health Department, says: Most Filipinos remain in denial when it comes to HIV/AIDS. But with 40,000 Filipinos now afflicted by the deadly sex virus, many now think it is not helpful to be complacent.
Llapitan thinks the solution is to address the fears and misinformation head on especially in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Trust condoms, he says.
And SOCOG does. It is not underestimating the capacity of the 10,000 residents of the Olympic athletes village to have a good time. SOCOG has said that it has ordered from Ansell stronger and safer condoms.
A member of the Philippine contingent says the gold-coloured condoms distributed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were unpopular. But the ones handed out in Barcelona available in the five colours of the Olympic rings ran out of stock.
There will be another team of people flooding in to capitalise on the Games bonanza. About 1,000 or so sex workers from the province of New South Wales and elsewhere are expected to make Sydney their home, cashing in on the tourist boom before and after the Games, says Mark Colvin of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Hector Begeo, a Filipino three-time Asian Games gold medal runner, says sex workers always abound at international sports events. Sydney will be no different and the cost of commercial sex will not be low.
Raphael Epstein, also of ABC, thinks sex workers at the Olympics will charge $ 300 for an hour. David Graham, a sex operator, will have 30 on duty at Sydney.
Whether athletes, officials and sponsors are likely to be customers of the sex workers in unclear. Hector Begeo says it would be impossible to know. What is certain is that everyone is vulnerable to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and athletes have to protect themselves.
Sarah Sprow of the
US-based AIDS Partnership said the Olympic
Committees campaign will help if it causes even one
person to think about the consequences of his or her
actions, or educate someone who didnt understand
before the risks involved in having unprotected sex.