No Longer Sport But Commercial Competition?

Those who are old enough to remember the Olympic Games in London in 1948 will recall that all the athletes involved were amateurs. The four gold medals won by the Dutch mother of two, Fanny Blankers-Koen, inspired wonder, and the gallant failures of E MacDonald Baily and Wing Commander Don Finlay maintained a great British tradition. After a number of cases of suspected financial support enjoyed by some athletes, and a few disqualifications, a gradual relaxation of the rules governing amateur status got underway and by the 1990s all restrictions were abandoned and professional athletes were allowed to compete in all sports except boxing and wrestling. By this time, with the powerful aid of global television, big business had taken over not only the Olympic Games, but all sports that enjoyed a wide following. Why then, is there so much concern now over restricting the use of performance-enhancing drugs? Why treat chemical aid any differently from financial aid?

With big business in charge, sportsmen and women receive every form of support from sponsors who gain publicity from their exploits. Vast sums of money are lavished on those most able to run fast, hit a small ball or kick a big one. In motor sport the leading manufacturers provide their chosen drivers with the best possible mechanical aids to success, and in recent years cycling has also benefited from a number of technical innovations. So why is power-boosting of the human frame by chemical aids so frowned upon? Why are pharmaceutical companies denied the opportunities enjoyed by motor manufacturers?

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France long-distance cycling race seven times between 1999 and 2005. He was stripped of his victories in 2012 when it was discovered that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. The suspicion had persisted since his first win in 1999. Controversy surrounds most sports and many athletes, to such an extent that almost every competition is overshadowed by doubt. With increasing sophistication of method it is becoming almost impossible to detect offenders and inevitably some are always avoiding detection. So if the process cannot be controlled, why not relax the restrictions as was done with amateur status?

There is no doubt that in a free regime the pharmaceutical company that supplied Lance Armstrong would have gained enormous commercial advantage from his seven great victories. Suitable slogans could, no doubt, have been devised to promote the elixir that contributed to his achievements. The drugs companies could have a new legitimate market in which to compete for global domination. As sport is now big business, why not remove all the shackles and leave everything to the free market?

John Powell

John Powell weaves a tale of tension and intrigue into the lives and loves of the Mainu family and their friends, against the rich social, cultural, economic and political background of the first four decades of Ghana’s independence, in his two novels: The Colonial Gentleman’s Son and Return to the Garden City.

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