Monday, January 22, 2018

Athletes are dope


Mark Fraser

A remarkable pheno­menon occurred in Trinidad and Tobago this week. Virtually overnight, people became critical thinkers. Suddenly, citizens were insisting that conclusions must be based on evidence, explaining why “I don’t know” can be an adequate answer, and calculating the ratio between yam and mouth. The phenomenon was more marked in Tobago than in Trinidad, so this may have been a sea-borne illness.

The topic which people were talking about was the exit of runners Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Semoy Hackett from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Champion­ships because of positive test results for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Citizens argued that nobody should judge Ms Baptiste until the test results were confirmed, all the facts were known and the cows came home. They also asserted that even if a PED was found, this only meant Ms Baptiste and Hackett may have taken it unknowingly from their coach, manager or a gremlin who had been exposed to water. 

Many of these people also recom­mended the athletes retain their faith in God, but even this was not an illogical statement, if your premise is that God takes time to ensure that athletes win races, football matches and Tiddlywinks tournaments. Which, since most Caribbean athletes do pray before competition, must be the case.

Baptiste’s and Hackett’s fellow athletes also came out in support of them. Shot putter Cleopatra Borel is reported in the Express (12.08.13) as saying, “There have been times when I’ve almost taken a medicine... and I’d check it and realise that it’s on the list. It’s really exhausting and it’s really, really hard for us.”

Now I wouldn’t have thought that athletes would be so easily exhausted, but maybe they don’t train their eyes and so reading labels really, really tires them out. I’d also have thought that, if you earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for running very fast, you’d carefully check what you’re eating, drinking and injecting. But, with my limited intellect, that was clearly a wasted thought.

Sprinter Aaron Armstrong, in last Tuesday’s Express, also defended Baptiste, saying, “Whether it’s cold medicine or something else, an athlete can have a positive test.” So Armstrong wasn’t referring to a false positive test, where the result may show a banned substance even though there isn’t any. He was saying that a positive test didn’t mean that Baptiste had taken a performance-enhancing drug with the intention of enhancing her performance. Of course, the World Anti-Doping Code holds that a “violation occurs whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance” but, as a Caribbean thinker, Armstrong apparently finds this unreasonable.

Even leading sports commentators like Fazeer Mohammed don’t think taking PEDs should be considered a big deal, for when cyclist Lance Armstrong was outed last January, Mohammed wrote: “Why do we hold sport and therefore sportsmen and women to a higher level? Why is it an accepted part of everyday life that elected officials will thief, lawyers will lie and businessmen will wheel and deal, but sporting performers dare not violate the written or unwritten codes of their specific discipline?”

Now I myself disagree with all these arguments, but that’s probably because I am not the critical thinker I fancy myself to be. My view is that, in situations like this, one must apply probabilities in order to make a judgment. Real intellectuals like Raymond Ramchari­tar, on the other hand, can argue that Jack Warner is probably not corrupt because he has never been charged for anything, even though Ramcharitar also holds that the PNM is surely corrupt although not one PNM official from John O’Halloran to Calder Hart has ever been charged for anything. Ramcharitar in his T&T Guardian column this week also lio­nises Lyndira Oudit as an “idea­list... whose urge is to be honest and productive”, even though in her maiden speech on Jack’s political platform she admitted that she remained quiet about corruption in the Government because she was a senator. And if intellectuals can make such arguments, can we fault the average person for following their lead?

My ageing brain, unfortunately, would pull an axon if I attempted such mental gymnastics. That’s why I prefer to use statistics when possible, satire when not, and both when constipated. So in 1987, Ben Johnson ran the 100-metre sprint at 9.87 seconds; in 2002, Tim Montgomery ran 9.78; and in 2006 Justin Gaitlin did 9.76. All three were later stripped of their gold medals after testing positive for PEDs. In 2008, Asafa Powell ran 9.72, Yohan Blake did 9.75 and then, in 2012, Usain Bolt broke the world record with 9.63 seconds. 

There can only be one logical inference drawn from this: that yam is more powerful than any steroid. After all, as T&T critical thinkers have been pointing out for the past week, the only time Caribbean athletes take banned substan­ces is by accident, by ignorance or by conspiracy against black people.