Outside of the Olympic Games, athletics is engaged in a prolonged introspection about how to promote itself to the non-aficionado. The uncomfortable truth is that, apart from for a week or two every four years, the majority of the British public couldn't give a monkeys about track and field events.
But, with London 2012 approaching, the momentum is once again building, and excitement is bubbling at the prospect of seeing Usain Bolt, the fastest human being on the planet, at such close proximity. Bolt's endearing personality and post-race showboating have gone some way to reigniting a fire that some feared had eternally burned out in athletics. It will be down to Bolt, and the emerging Adam Gemili , to restore an element of innocence to a sport tarnished by doping controversy.
Athletics is now seeking salvation from the stains that have been ingrained into the sport by cowardly drug-cheats. Dwain Chambers is the one everyone talks about - he is, to an extent, the victim of a witch-hunt - it does seem that Chambers is the man always singled out in any discussion of doping in athletics. It is a little harsh, purely because there are so many others who are equally culpable.
Take the Jamaican, Steve Mullings, for example. His best time miraculously improved from being the 21st fastest man in 2010 to a world-top-three 9.8 seconds by 2011. Last July, Mullings revealed the secret behind his improvement: "I just figured it out, how to do it." Later that month, he tested positive for diuretic furosemide, which acts as a masking agent for other drugs. It was the second time he had been guilty, after serving a two-year ban from 2004 due to excessive levels of testosterone being discovered. So, in fact, he had 'figured out how to do it' seven years before.
The list goes on, though. The American Justin Gatlin is a little more fortunate. Gatlin tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, meaning a four-year ban that prevented him competing in Beijing, and therefore denying him the chance to defend the gold medal he won at 2004 Olympics in Athens. However, he, like Chambers, returns for another stab in London, having won the US trial with a time of 9.8 seconds.
The watching public can only hope that Gatlin and Chambers do not return to their drug-taking ways. But there lies the essence of the problem. If Bolt was to storm to another record-breaking success of time-mangling velocity, it would be entirely believable. He is an extraordinary and clean athlete. Gatlin and Chambers are also extraordinary athletes. But they are dirty, their names contaminated and besmirched by their doping history. If either of those sprinters were to run a time of 9.5 seconds, for instance, the victory would be tinged by an undercurrent of doubt, unease and scepticism.
Shame's dark cloud darkens the industry that Bolt and Gemili inhabit, but the Olympic Games present an opportunity for redemption - which makes it all the more mind-boggling as to why and how Dwayne Chambers will take his place on the starting blocks for the 100 metres in a few weeks time. During a period in which athletics will enjoyed an intense period of public and media attention, the image of a drug cheat competing in one of the most eagerly anticipated events is not one which should be encouraged.
The presence of drug-cheats makes athletics a hard sell - not so much in terms of bums on seats - athletics is always popular during the Olympic Games - but to the suspicious minds of the British public.
With the Olympic Games back in the United Kingdom for the first time in sixty-four years, athletics should be celebrated for what it is: the purest and most natural forms of human athleticism. Tracks and field events are tests of 'Who can sprint the fastest?', 'Who can jump the highest?', and 'Who can chuck something the furthest?' - which means they must be accompanied by the purest and most natural of sporting rules which stem from one overbearing principle: let the best man win by allowing all athletes to compete on a level playing field.
Chambers made the decision to break away from the fundamental foundations of sport when, over a sustained period, he consumed a breathtaking cocktail of seven different drugs. The taking of one drug on a one-off occasion could be possibly put down to naivety, a mere hiccup, but Chambers' tapestry of substances were carefully considered and thought out - they would be used in a cyclical manner, in a "three weeks on, one week off" formation, so as to maximise pre-season conditioning.
Now, Chambers may have written an absorbing and open account of his descent into drugs. He may well encourage young athletes to steer away from drugs by doing commendable work with charities and in schools. He may well be kind, open-minded and a loving father of three. Very well. So, he is the most honest, the most kind, and the most decent drug cheat around.
It is admirable to see the way that he has rehabilitated his life. And yes, he has served his ban and there is no obligation for him to withdraw according to the new laws. But it would have shown a touch of genuine humility and remorse if Chambers would have politely declined the opportunity to enter, also boosting those craving a return to the realism of athletics.
His decision to compete therefore marked the moment that all of his rhetoric about the way in which 'taking drugs ruins lives' fell down and portrayed what little repentance he feels for such reprehensible actions.
Of course, one set of actions do not define a character, but such actions must have consequences. And if Chambers was really interested in setting an example to the future generations, rather than engaging in charitable activities aimed at winning over the hearts and minds of the British people in the pursuit of self-interest, he would recognise this and steer his polluting presence a long away from our Olympic Games.
BY THE WAY
Showman Becks Should Be Back
I have always had the impression that David Beckham sees football as something of a theatre and the thought of being kept back-stage is not one which would appeal to him. Many have suggested that if Beckham would have been granted a place in the team GB Olympic squad, it would have been down to reputation, a sympathetic 'thank you' for his selfless work in bringing the Games to London. Maybe it would. But 'Brand Beckham' is big business and the Olympic bid milked every last drop out of its lucrative appeal. Without Beckham, we probably wouldn't be hosting the Olympics this year. So it would have been a welcome touch to see his efforts reciprocated with the reward of a place in the squad, perhaps instead of the arrogant Micah Richards, who refused a call-up to the standby list for the England Euro 2012 squad. It is harsh on Beckham, who, after all his hard work, perhaps deserves one last performance on centre stage. What we do know, however, is that Beckham will be back to support England or GB with any future bids. Beckham, at least, will never let his country down.
Villas Boas - Once Bitten, Twice Shy?
Andre Villas-Boas may have thought that he had escaped the life of a manager whose transfer policy is dictated by those exerting power above him when he left Chelsea and their interfering chairman Roman Abramovich. But the early signs may be concerning for him - with Spurs swooping for Gylfi Sigurdsson and on the verge of capturing Emmanuel Adebayor and Jan Vertonghen; all players who had already been on the Spurs' radar before the Portuguese replaced Harry Redknapp as Tottenham manager.
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