Last year, athletics was a serious contender for Quartz’s award for the most corrupt sport for good reason.
A shocking report in November detailed Russia’s history of “state sponsored” doping, blackmail, and systematic cover-ups. Russia has since been suspended from international competition, while the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack, is currently under criminal investigation after he was accused of corruption and money laundering. Diack’s son was among three senior IAAF officials to be given life-long bans for inflicting “unprecedented damage” on the sport.
So can the sport be redeemed? The body that oversees British athletics has released a number of radical recommendations to clean up the sport, including resetting all world records “for a new era.” That effectively wipes away every great Olympic moment we’ve ever witnessed.
Unsurprisingly, the proposal to expunge world records doesn’t sit well with everyone. Paula Radcliffe, the current women’s world-record holder in the marathon, has come out against the recommendation. “Without doubt you are going to punish innocent athletes, so why do it again when they have already had to compete against cheats during their career?” she told The Guardian.
The issue of what to do with when the integrity of the sport is widely tarnished has come up in other pursuits. Lance Armstrong, once seen as a cycling god, was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles (paywall) and his legacy lives on. No winner of the Tour de France since—especially those that perform exceptionally well—is immune from allegations of cheating.
Performance enhancers has also blighted baseball, with many of America’s beloved players implicated in the so-called “steroids era” that ran from the late Nineties until fairly recently—Barry Bonds’s record home-run ball was permanently asterisked (paywall) and many great players have been ensnared. But that isn’t enough for some, who have also called for the records set during this era to be wiped or at least docked.
The issue of doping stretches back many years in athletics. When the IAAF used new technology to retest athletes’ blood samples from the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, it found 32 adverse doping results from 28 athletes. The findings probably didn’t come as surprise to anti-doping agencies, which have being playing a cat-and-mouse-game with cheaters for decades.