Cheats and corruption ‘sabotaged’ London 2012

World athletics is in crisis after a damning report into doping called for the suspension of Russia from all competition. Can cheating be rooted out, or is it endemic in competitive sport?

‘It was wonderful.’

Usain Bolt had just run the fastest time in Olympic history to win the 100-metre gold medal in front of 80,000 fans. His words seemed to sum up the mood at the London 2012 Games, when Britain welcomed 698,000 visitors, athletes from 204 nations and 8.8m live spectators.

Those memories have now been tainted. Yesterday, a World Anti-Doping Agency commission said athletics contests at the Games were ‘sabotaged’ by a systematic and apparently ‘state-sponsored’ programme of doping among Russian athletes. Details were damning. Officials at one laboratory ‘intentionally and maliciously’ destroyed more than 1,400 drugs samples after being asked to preserve them; the Russian athletics federation allowed athletes under suspicion to take part in the Games; and senior figures at the governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, adopted a ‘collective and inexplicable laissez-faire policy’.

Forty-eight Russian athletes have now been suspended and the report has called for Russia to be suspended from athletics competitions. Lamine Diack, who was head of the IAAF at the time, is among four officials under police investigation on suspicion of accepting bribes to cover up test results.

The crisis facing world athletics may yet get worse. The Sunday Times recently suggested that blood doping may have contributed to up to a third of medal wins in endurance events in the Olympics and World Championships between 2001 and 2012.

Olympians were first tested for performance-enhancing drugs at the 1968 Games, when Sweden’s Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall became the first competitor to be disqualified for taking them. High-profile offenders have included Ben Johnson, who won the men’s 100-metre final in 1988, and Marion Jones, the disgraced sprinter who had to hand back five Olympic medals. But the authors of this report say it is a ‘game-changer for sport’ which shows ‘a different scale of corruption’ even in comparison with the ongoing FIFA scandal.

Dopers duped

Optimistic observers say the cheats can be rooted out. These allegations are shocking, but it is quite possible to eliminate the cheating. If athletics has enough people who are prepared to speak out, a determination to stay ahead of those who bend the rules and a culture of zero tolerance, doping will become both impossible and unattractive.

Pessimists disagree. This systematic conspiracy seemingly had support from those in very high places, nationally and internationally. And it is not a shocking one-off: it echoes Lance Armstrong’s bullying of team-mates and anti-doping officials. Sport will never be rid of cheats; as long as competition exists, there will be people prepared to win by fair means or foul.

You Decide

  1. Would you ever cheat to gain a competitive advantage?
  2. Is cheating an inevitable part of sport?


  1. Write a list of ways people can cheat in sport. Are any of them worse than others? Why?
  2. Write a letter to Sebastian Coe, who has recently taken over as head of the IAAF, explaining what he should do about the current crisis in athletics.

Some People Say...

“Cheaters never prosper.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t care about sport — does this affect me?
This story may have political ramifications, given the implication that the Russian state was involved. But more significantly, it raises uncomfortable ethical questions. In some sports — such as cycling — drug-taking has at times been so common that some competitors have said it is impossible to win without them.
Should this put me off sport?
The cheats in sport still remain in a minority. Even in sports which seem to be dominated by cheats, the press only cover the elite competitors.
What are the consequences of cheating?
Drugs cheats in athletics usually get a two-year ban for a first offence. But even after returning, they have to deal with the suspicion and disdain which results from a positive test.

Word Watch

698,000 visitors
This is according to analysis by the Office of National Statistics.
204 nations
This included, for the first time, women from every country.
This claim was made by the commission’s leader, Dick Pound.
Russian athletes
It is alleged that Russian athletes had paid 5% of their earnings to domestic doping officials in return for banned substances and assistance in covering up results. In a documentary last December, one athlete was filmed saying that ‘99%’ of her teammates used banned substances; 800-metre gold medal winner Mariya Savinova was also caught on camera admitting using the banned steroid oxandrolone.
Men’s 100-metre final in 1988
Johnson, a Canadian, tested positive for anabolic steroids soon after the race and was stripped of the gold medal and world record. Five of the other seven athletes in the race subsequently dubbed ‘the dirtiest in history’ went on to test positive for, or be involved in the use or supply of, performance enhancing drugs. Britain’s Linford Christie, winner of the 100-metre gold medal in 1992, was one of them.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.