Martin Smith column: Drug cheats kill our belief in sport

USA's Tyson Gay
USA's Tyson Gay
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Even in this cynical, knowing age it still shocks, still hurts.

How many of us heard of the Sunday Times’ drugs-cheat revelations in dread that one of our own heroes or heroines would be on the list?

Even those of us with doubts could not have believed that as many as one in three medal winners at track endurance events between 2001 and 2012 were doping. Like finding out your favourite 1970s TV presenter was a sex offender, the unmasking of drugs cheats always kills part of our belief in people.

We feel betrayed, used, mugged.

Every scandal that breaks takes more of our belief, more of our trust and makes fools of us.

Athletes are often tempted to take drugs, we’ve known this for a long time. Drugs and sport have been partners since the ancient Greeks took narcotic mushroom and seed combinations and the Romans doped their horses in the chariot races.

Early cyclists used trimethyl, the long distance stars of the 19th century pedestrianism boom used cocaine and Champagne to ‘boost’ their stamina.

Steroids, amphetamines, blood doping and all the tricks we don’t know about yet are part of the dark side of sporting history.

Why should we expect more?

Sports men and women are inevitably as morally corruptible as the rest of society. Some will choose to take shortcuts, others won’t, just as in every other walk of life.

But we so want to be thrilled, so love to be impressed and awed by power, speed and glory that we rebuild our trust and suspend our disbelief.

How are we suckered in again and again to think that the drugs issue is being taken care of, that this time our heroes and heroines are clean?

The answer is that many of us aren’t any more.

Sport is not just about money, personal bests, training regimes and six-pack selfies. It’s about a belief in becoming better, a belief in getting every last ounce of potential from ourselves and from those that we love to watch.

Every time there’s a drug-cheat scandal we lose some of that belief and even the most romantic and want-to-be-convinced of us start to turn away.

Only the proven-to-be clean champions like Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah keep us going.

They and the millions of athletes around the world who strive to achieve in the belief that they are still involved in something noble and worthwhile.

At least for now.