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Darcy Beckles is a man of few words. They are even less so when it comes to dealing with the media. I have never known him to be a big admirer of the Fourth Estate. Therefore, I was shocked to see him give an interview to THE NATION and on a very thorny and contentious issue to boot. Knowing him to be somewhat of a private individual, a man whose thoughts you can’t read, far less buy for $1 million, he was the last person I expected to speak on the topic of drugs in sports in a public forum. The manner in which he tackled it was even more surprising. Beckles was very matter-of-fact and muscular and there was no ambiguity on the chosen topic of discussion either. His position was as emphatic as the performance which earned him a Mr World bodybuilding title in 1976 or many of the other displays which won him iconic status at home and abroad during a very successful career. Let me say up front, he has earned the right to speak on any matter relating to his sport. His track record gives him that right. After all, I have heard others less qualified than Beckles make comments about bodybuilding as if they were experts. His stance on allowing drug taking at certain levels of bodybuilding is what raised eyebrows, not to mention red flags, especially so soon after the revelations about former cycling icon Lance Armstrong. I am not in a position to say whether Beckles’ stance on the subject was as a direct result of a question posed by the reporter on the Armstrong case, but in the eyes of most people his timing was wrong. When Beckles’ statement was published, the dust had hardly settled on what has been the typical nine-day wonder after a high profile athlete has either been caught using illegal substances or has been accused. Armstrong’s alleged wrongdoing was off the front pages in the last two weeks as the other stories of life unfold and now seen as more important than that of a fallen hero. There will be more exposé about other high profile sportsmen in the future and it will be deja vu in all circumstances too. So from the viewpoint of what Beckles said when he said it, it can be regarded as insensitive. However, he may argue that his timing was perfect while the Armstrong iron was hot, particularly if it was something he really wanted to get off his chest for a very long time. After all, would his statement have had the same impact or attracted the same attention if there wasn’t a hotly debated link in the public domain? I think it would have because of his status. People hang on to the words of icons as if clutching at straws to save their lives. Whether they appreciate it or not, ordinary people look to them for guidance in shaping their lives. Their words are like pearls of wisdom spoken by Solomon. We take note. Therefore, although Beckles spoke of allowing drug use in a certain context and it is already established that professional bodybuilders take enhancing drugs, he would still be taken to task for even suggesting that they be allowed at all. Prescription drugs are, of course, something very different. We should also note that the use of performance enhancing substances is so entrenched in professional bodybuilding that there’s a world natural bodybuilding federation that seeks to make the distinction between the two types of competition. Some always rightfully refer to the unfair advantage drugged athletes have over others who choose to compete fair and square. For me, the playing field is level if everyone comes clean whether competing as a professional or amateur, so I see no need for using drugs in sports. Let’s face it. You must still be of a certain quality to capitalize on the use of drugs. Can a donkey ever beat a thoroughbred on any given day irrespective of what additional substances he’s given? I know there is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to this topic universally because there are people who benefit financially and this could be one of the prime reasons sportsmen and their cohorts take the drug route in the first place. However, each man is entitled to his beliefs and should accept whatever consequences come with those beliefs. I wasn’t surprised that the National Anti-Doping Commission rebuked Beckles for his comments and he must have anticipated there would be a backlash. I am sure he will take it stride. As we all know, his back is very broad. • Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.