Taking Issue with Mort Serling
Is it sport any more?
I am deeply impressed by the way the politicians and sports officials here have reacted to this latest drugs in sport episode almost on the eve of the Olympic Games. As a native New Yorker and a life-long baseball fan I can appreciate a highly co-ordinated closing of the ranks, an elaborately synchronised cover-your-arse. Those revelations by champion Australian discus thrower Werner Reiterer of the use of performance enhancing drugs will hardly come as a shock to any member of the Australian public who may have taken an interest in the Olympic movement over the past few years. Frankly, who is surprised? The Perth barman, the factory worker in Adelaide, the under-eights soccer coach in Parramatta, the swimming teacher in Geelong? And who couldn't take an interest? Who couldn't notice the corruption from the highest level, right on through — a veritable gravy train at the expense of the world community? Look, the temptation is to say "to hell with the lot", close the damn thing down, abolish this five-ring circus. But then along comes someone like this guy Reiterer. The 32-year-old dual Olympian and Commonwealth gold medalist has published a book, Positive, in which he says that Australian Olympic swimmers and track athletes are taking a banned, undetectable human growth hormone. He says performance enhancing drugs cost him $20,000 a year for three years from 1997. "... I would have had two Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA) tests each year. I would then be given advice — let's just say it was from an Olympic administrator — on what levels were acceptable." He puts it bluntly: "I was given advice on how to go about it from those officials." I respect him. It takes guts to stand up and be a target. And boy, have they got the guns trained on him. The country's Treasurer Peter Costello has even stepped in telling Reiterer to "shut up or put up", so some heavy profits are clearly at stake here. What he actually means is "for Christ sake shut up". Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates took another tack. On the day Reiterer publicly launched his book Coates announced an inquiry to be headed by Justice Tricia Kavanagh, a former deputy chair of ASDA, going on to praise Reiterer as "gutsy" and forecast his becoming an anti-drug ambassador. ASDA has denied there is corruption in the organisation, its chief executive exclaiming, "I can't think of how these claims could be substantiated." The current national throwing events coach Keith Connor weighed in with "It's a great advertisement for not taking drugs — he's done nothing for five years" and Australian Swimming tried to put a cap on any further exposures with "we are seeking legal advice". All that should dampen things down a little. But there's an intangible at work here: a commitment to principals, a moral abhorrence of the despoiling of a person's humanity, things that we too often times set aside as having no real value because they are so difficult to turn into a commodity. "Morally", says Reiterer, who announced his immediate retirement on the publication of his book, "I couldn't live with it. I couldn't go to an Olympics and perhaps win a medal, let alone a gold medal. It's just not right. "Getting caught in it myself was repulsive. Putting things into your body so you can throw a metal plate further, it's not sport any more, is it?" Well, maybe there's a future for the Olympics after all.