Problems in Athletics & an Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

I’m in the lobby of the incredibly beautiful Fairmont Hotel, Monaco, borrowing their WiFi and thinking about the state of the sport. It’s been the source of many, many Twitter discussions over the last year and my view is quite well known. It’s a mess. It’s a giant, ugly mess from the top down. The main four problems as I see them at the moment are:
1. Governance,
2. Doping,
3. CAS ruling on hyperandrogenism, and
4. Nationality hopping.

Diack may be gone…
Diack Jr. may be gone (and in hiding)…
Dolle may be gone…

But the uneasy feeling remains. Could Seb (or Sergey, in their time as VPs) really not have known? Wouldn’t you or I be sacked from our relative jobs for not knowing something as important as how the day to day running of the organisation was conducted? And particularly in Seb’s case, if the guys above him knew, and the guy who reported to him knew (Nick Davies), how on earth could he possibly have been in the dark? Here’s how the governance at the IAAF apparently worked, until recently:


Seb was meant to be ushering in a cleaner era for our sport, but will Rio 2016 be any cleaner? Maybe marginally, as the Russian team won’t be there. But that is mainly down to the excellent work of Hajo Seppelt and the German tv station ARD. IAAF were left chasing their tails on the Russia scandal, despite the fact that rumours about systematic doping in Russia have been around since before I was born. Hopefully Hajo’s exploits in Kenya will expose the huge doping problem that exists there, and then he can turn his attentions closer to home. He has recently set up a website to confidentially report information on possible doping in any sport. UKAD have a similar reporting service, but given their gross negligence and failures recently in the Dr. Bonar case, I’m not sure many people would trust them to act on the information they are receciving.

Another major issue, which will come to the fore in Rio, if not in the 800m here in Monaco, is the CAS ruling on hyperandrogenism. This season we have seen Caster Semenya look like her old self – faster, unbeatable in quick or slow races, and even capable of breaking the world record in the right conditions (yes, Kratochvilova’s insane 1:53.28!!!) I don’t think anyone is naive enough to think that this sudden improvement is related to anything other than the CAS ruling last year. This is not intended as Semenya bashing, after all there are several other athletes who are rumoured to be benefiting from the same ruling, but more as a lament on what the ruling potentially means for women’s sports. Surely women with (now unregulated) hyperandrogenism will become more and more dominant in women’s sport outside the 800m, in field events such as hammer, shot putt, javelin etc and in short sprints. As several athletes and journalists have commented – is this the end of women’s sport as we know it?

Every two years the European Athletics Championships remind us of another problem – nationality hopping. The most notable of this years championships was Yasemine Can:


Can, or Jemutai as the Eurosport commentators liked to call her, did herself no favours by talking about being “happy to win medals for Turkey, but also hoping to win medals for Kenya in the future” in her post race interviews. Of all the problems athletics currently has, this one is probably the easiest to fix, in two simple steps:

1. You have to run for a country that you are born in, or a close family member was born in, or where you have acquired refugee status.
2. You can only ever run for one country at senior level.

Similar rules already exist in many sports including football and rugby, they are easy to police and they will prevent the likes of the “Turkish” team at the European champs – which included athletes from Kenya, Jamaica, Azerbaijan and Cuba – from ever happening again.

Despite athletics’ failings in all of these areas, I know that tomorrow when I’m in the Stade Louis II in Monaco I’ll be able to enjoy the live athletics I see. This is because I’m capable of a form of cognitive dissonance. But while I’ll enjoy the performances for the spectacle that they are, I know not to believe that all of what I’m seeing is legitimate. And I also know not to believe that the IAAF or CAS are doing everything that they can to clean up and make fairer the sport.


3 thoughts on “Problems in Athletics & an Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Paul

    Hello Louise,
    Good to hear from you again.
    Have you any thoughts on the Aden investigation and the on-going Salazar investigation?
    Paul Senior


    1. swiftgirlathletics Post author

      I wish I knew more about them, although I don’t hold out much hope for the Salazar investigation. The agent that was arrested in Kenya for doping athletes (Rosa) has been refused an appeal to get his passport back to travel to Rio. I hope the same will happen to Aden.


  2. Joel

    Of course Coe knew and so did probably everybody of importance in the IAAF. Coe is just a new face in charge, but the things stay the same. The problem in sports’ governing bodies is that it takes years to get to the top and by the time you get there, you are part of the culture that enables these kind of things and you just go with it, because it provides you with a nice life. IOC, UCI, FIFA, IAAF… the problem is everywhere and nothing’s going to change unless you rip them apart completely and bring in a new culture of doing things. And in the end, it all comes down to money, little money to be made with positives popping all over the place and wiping out the stars who bring in the money. Also, the big audience is content with things being the way they are, because they don’t know better and don’t want their idols to be done for doping.



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