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AS I SEE THINGS: Competitiveness in sport and the unfair edge

Brian Francis

AS I SEE THINGS: Competitiveness in sport and the unfair edge

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A shocker! That is how many sports-loving people all around the world have described the recently announced failed doping tests by two of the planet’s most talented track and field athletes – Asafa Powell of Jamaica and Tyson Gay of the United States. 
These proclamations have come on the heels of next month’s start of the World Championships in Russia and follow similar disclosures in the case of yet another of Jamaica’s top female sprinters, Veronica Campbell-Brown. 
As surprising as these reports are, to me, the more disappointing aspect is a story by one, Ian O’Riordan, claiming that: “The timing of Gay’s and Powell’s doping offences may be coincidental although not necessarily unrelated, as the IAAF – the governing body of the sport – has upped its target testing in recent months, with even broader scandalous findings in Turkey just last week, returning a reported 30 positive samples.” Is this the beginning of something far more baleful and well-orchestrated to come? I really do hope not.
Most individuals would agree that track and field, like so many other professional sporting activities, is huge business. Several world-famous companies such as Nike, Puma, and Adidas, just to name a few, have invested billions of dollars in a number of individual athletes and sporting disciplines over time and would logically expect some positive returns on their investments.
Doping scandals of the magnitude to which we speak do very little to instil confidence in investors and hence have the potential to literally cripple sports in general. A zero tolerance policy is clearly what is needed to effectively address this quandary.
Everything said thus far, a critical question arises: Why do athletes cheat through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly those that are clearly labelled “banned substances”? I am sure several different perspectives can be brought to the fore in direct response to this question. But I would argue that a crucial piece of the puzzle can be found in the conceptualization of competitiveness at the individual level.  What is this? 
At the individual level, competitiveness is characterized in the economics literature as: “An aggressive willingness to compete. The individual goal would be to perform better than others, based on physical superiority, intelligence, specific knowledge, experience etc. It could also [be used] to optimize the own performance with regard to the previous level of performance.” Can this be any clearer? I doubt it.
Indeed, when athletes compete at the highest levels, they all have one major goal in mind: to win. Some take this literally and seek to go beyond normal limits just to guarantee victory.
Doping is one available mechanism to ensure that an athlete’s mission of winning at all cost can be fully accomplished. Hence, as often as we have seen in the past, many professional athletes fall victim to the doping temptation with devastating effects in several cases, if I may say so.
While everyone clearly understands the need to win, athletes all over the world must accept that the business side of sport makes it imperative that competition should take place within a “clean” environment and in accordance with the various rules, policies and procedures as set out by the different sports’ administration bodies.
Failure to adhere to such a basic principle would always generate the same, rudimentary outcome: the end of a promising career.
• Brian M. Francis, PhD,  is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies.