The Guardian July 12, 2000


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.

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