PALM DESERT, Jul. 30, 2016 – The International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Museum is a “Hall of Fame” for the excitement, inspiration and thrills generated by the modern Olympic Games. But it is incomplete: there is no “Hall of Shame.”
In the fight against doping, the IOC is getting more and more serious. It is freezing and re-testing athlete samples from four and eight years ago to find new instances of cheating and penalizing those found guilty. Based on a report it did not commission, compiled in just 57 days, it nearly banned the entire Russian team from the Rio Games opening next week, and will enforce a ban on more than 100 Russian athletes who participated in the state-sponsored sports development program found to have been purposefully arranged to hide positive doping test results.
Important developments? Yes, but also temporal in today’s 24-hour news cycle. As the Olympic Movement struggles with the concept of having an outside body – the World Anti-Doping Agency – take over doping control on an international basis, it also faces a communications challenge in the most-connected time in human history.
Publicity is justly recommended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman. …
But there must be a further call for publicity for service. That potent force must, in the impending struggle, be utilized in many ways as a continuous remedial measure.
So it should be with doping. With its zeal for youth to appreciate, watch and support the Olympic Movement, does the IOC know if today’s teenagers – born in this century – are aware of who Ben Johnson was, and why his 1988 positive test for steroids in the Seoul Games is the greatest doping scandal in sports history?
Have today’s youngsters learned that lesson? Not without continuing publicity. Brandeis was right.
Just how right he was is demonstrated over and over again in our culture. In the U.S., ask adults – especially those over 40 – to name a gangster, and they’re quite likely to say “Al Capone” (pictured above in his 1930 mugshot after indictment on Federal income tax charges). The publicity Capone received in his lifetime – and continuing today – cements his image as someone the vast majority of people would prefer not to emulate.
Should the Olympic Museum add a separate “Hall of Shame”? It needs to spread the message of clean sport so long as the IOC’s position is to support clean sport. It can do that in the Museum, but for those who don’t visit Lausanne, Switzerland to see it, the 21st Century model is to use online means.
At a minimum, the IOC should establish a permanent online register of ALL athletes in Olympic sports who have been found guilty of doping (or other offenses) by the relevant agencies, with:
- Country or countries represented
- Nature of their offense(s)
- Periods of suspension(s)
- Results voided and honors revoked (or reinstated)
The same care and effort that goes into making online sites attractive and informative – with images and video – should be included in this teaching tool for the Olympic Movement.
At the same time, such a site can also be the repository for information about athletes who have been penalized and then been reinstated. One high-profile case which would meet this standard is the long story of American double gold-medalist Jim Thorpe from the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
A year after winning the pentathlon and decathlon, Thorpe was stripped of his medals when it became known that he was paid to play semipro baseball for a couple of seasons in North Carolina. It took until 1982 for the IOC to agree to reinstate him, but only as co-champion in the events he won by enormous margins. That he was reinstated should be as easily discoverable as the reports over decades that he was disqualified.
The international federation founded in 1913 to govern track & field – the IAAF – has taken a first step in the “Hall of Shame” concept. On its vast Web site, it devotes a considerable area to anti-doping information and includes a downloadable, PDF-format list of “Athletes currently suspended from all competition in athletics following an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.” It’s not an all-time list, but as of July 20, 2016, it runs to 24 full pages.
There is nothing standing in the way of the IOC to implement such a program on its own, and the compilation effort can efficiently handled by the myriad of outstanding Olympic and international sports statisticians already working in the field (if you have any doubts, check out Sports-Reference.com/Olympics, and you will doubt no more).
But as Brandeis noted, in the same year that Thorpe’s achievements were struck from the record books, publicity only works as long as it is used as a “continuous remedial measure.” That takes a desire for action, and some money.
The IOC has the latter, and says it wants to act against doping. Here’s a good way to do it, leveraging our connected world in a communications initiative which can have worldwide reverberations.
If not now, when?
¶ Rich Perelman has served and supported organizing committees of 20 multi-day, multi-venue events, including five Olympic Games, in the U.S., Canada and Europe. In addition to nearly 100 books and pamphlets, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, Track & Field News, Universal Sports and many other publications.
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