As a child at the Mico Practicing School, morning assembly featured prayers, songs and a talk by our Headmaster, Ivan Shaw. He drilled into attentive children a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that goes like this: “The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept were toiling upward through the night”. My friends and I interpreted this as: aim high and never give up.
That encouragement/incentive stayed with me as I grew up and moved on to Wolmer’s’ and eventually, UWI. After graduating as a medical Doctor, my interest in sports allowed me to get a scholarship engineered by the then Minster of Sports, the Honorable Errol Anderson, to do a course in Sports Medicine in the GDR, the German Democratic Republic,(East Germany). While there I began to understand the possibility of a short cut to athletic greatness: drugs. With that knowledge came the unrelenting desire to do all in my power to expunge from sports, anyone who used unnatural means to achieve victory – drug cheats.
I was involved in drug testing long before the onset of JADCO. With assistance from the Carreras Foundation and the JFF under the leadership and assistance of Anthony (Tony) James, footballers were subject to testing for Cocaine, Marijuana and Amphetamine. The process was praised, all around and I was invited to Canada to make a presentation to CONCACAF about the work that was being done in every Caribbean country that was a part of the Caribbean Football Union. That program came to an end when “stars” began testing positive and a fairly large number of Jamaicans returned positive tests thus jeopardizing their trip to a football camp in Brazil.
With the beginning of JADCO my involvement in drug testing and identifying those who use illegal substances to improve results and performance continued but I now had a very real and personal respect for the fact that throughout the world, while every country that bought into and signed the WADA code, administrators, leaders and fans in those same countries found new and inventive ways of defending and seeking to exonerate “stars” who tested positive. The presence of the illegal substance in their bodies always seemed to get there completely and amazingly unknown to the one person who would benefit from the presence of the drug: the athlete!
Whistle blowers and the brazen audacity of the cheaters were some of the ways that the cheaters were exposed. The “Clear” identified by a Jamaican coach unmasked perpetrators of the most amazing results in Track and Field. The Whistleblower who exposed state controlled cheating by a powerful European nation has resulted in bans for those who cheat, while “experts” seek to find ways to reduce punishments and find ways to get those who cheated back in competition “for the fans and the good of the sport”. Recently the exposure of Alberto Salazar a legendary coach of “world beating” long distance runners has not deterred those who benefitted from his “expertise” fight to continue competing, denying any knowledge of how their times and world leading performances blossomed while under his influence.
The exposure of the use of drugs by the trainer of arguably the world’s best racehorse, Maximum Security and now the allegation of one of the greatest come-back stories of boxing Tyson Fury, combines to make you wonder if the words of the poet Longfellow means absolutely nothing in modern society. And yet, the career and exploits of our own Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen, is the glimmer of hope that keeps the cynic in some of us, subliminal. The incentives and rewards for cheating now seem to surpass the innate goodness of some of us. Even when the perpetrator is exposed as a cheat, millions of scarce dollars are spent creating lasting monuments of their “achievements”.
Somehow, someway, the fight to eliminate drug cheats from sports must continue. The expertise of chemists and pharmaceutical geniuses will always be a step ahead of the testers, but an unrelenting and frequent educational program for the young and vulnerable athlete must continue, and whistleblowers must be made to understand that their identity in a world of “informer-fe-dead” culture will be protected. A lot of the results that we are seeing now that appear “unbelievable” are in fact unbelievable. But, and this is a big but, some of the “unbelievable” results that we are seeing are in fact genuine. We need to separate the cheats from the next Usain Bolt, male or female. Let us never ever give up in the fight against the use of drugs in sports.