Once a cheat, always a cheat

Doping I don’t have much in common with tennis ace Andy Murray. He’s an international sporting superstar; I’m not. He has a gorgeous fiancée; I don’t. He is worth millions of pounds; I’m already in debt. However one thing that we do share, aside perhaps from our monotone voices, is an absolute dislike for dopers.

After American tennis player Wayne Odesnik was yesterday banned for 15 years after his second doping offence, Murray was quick to comment on the decision. Of course, this was done in his usual dead-pan style but it was interesting to hear some of his rather honest opinions on Odesnik and doping in general. As well as this, the fact that he took the time out of training to give interviews surrounding the ban of someone ranked over 250 places below him shows how anti-drugs Murray is. It’s common to hear former athletes speaking out on such issues; it’s rare to have fellow professionals do so.

Due to the lengthy nature of the ban – the longest ever given in tennis – and his age (31), Odesnik’s career is over, something he himself has recognised by announcing his retirement minutes after the punishment became public. His attempts to deny knowledge of taking anything and uphold his reputation, though, are feeble at best. Several illegal drugs were found in his system; that is no accident. On top of this, he had already been previously banned after being caught with human-growth-hormone. Despite this, some may think that 15 years is too long. Not me though – a precedent needs to be set to deter other athletes from following suit and this finally seems to be a good example of one. Such a ban would end most sporting careers even at the tenderest of ages – if this is not an incentive to avoid doping then I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, because of the ‘second chance’ policy many sports employ, it will be a long time before such punishments are regularly given out. Take athletics for instance; if an athlete is found guilty of taking drugs for the first time, they receive a maximum ban of two years. Whilst this can seriously affect an athlete’s chances of future success, there is still a good possibility that they can return to the sport and continue from where they left off. It’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. There are discussions underway to ban first-time offenders for up to four years in athletics but I think this still needs to be longer, otherwise there is still an incentive to cheat as getting caught won’t mean the end.

I’m not saying, however, that all those found ‘guilty’ of doping receive such heavy bans; in some cases it is a genuine mistake or down to sabotage from a member of their coaching team. In 2011, defender Kolo Toure was caught with an illegal substance in his body whilst at Manchester City, although it turned out to be that this was because he had taken a diet pill to lose weight without looking at what was in it. There are always going to be cases where athletes are genuinely innocent, but unless this can almost certainly be proven then they have to be treated as cheats and punished accordingly, not let off lightly.

Some may argue that, to avoid all this, drugs should be made legal. ‘Surely it would even out the playing field and ensure there are no cheats?’ If only it were that simple… Whilst more developed countries, especially those with a history of doping violations, would have little problem adopting such policies, this would scale down the range of competition drastically. Many poorer countries would effectively be banished from being allowed to compete against their richer counterparts and that is, quite simply, discrimination. In an age where equality is a buzzword, that would be extremely hypocritical indeed.

Odesnik’s ban may be a rarity now, but if doping and other forms of cheating are going to be truly tackled in sport then it should be the example that is turned to in future cases. Whilst all athletes play to win, surely those who truly care will recognise that such a risk would not be worth taking if it meant the end of their careers if they were caught? Or is that just wishful thinking in such a materialistic society?

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