Cleaning up Greek athletics

The solution that was given yesterday to the drama of the Greek doping suspects held no surprises. Their ostensibly voluntary withdrawal from the Games was the only option available to them. The two sprinters had allegedly been involved in a motorbike accident, suffering injuries which, according to doctors, prevented them from attending a hearing of the IOC disciplinary committee on Monday. It would therefore be absurd if they were to appear fit to compete against top-flight sprinters a few days after the crash. Other countries had anyway threatened, openly or otherwise, to withdraw their teams from the Athens Olympics if the IOC gave Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou the green light to take part in the Games. What eventually happened should have been decided much earlier. The responsibility lies with the two athletes but also with Greek officials, who failed to make a painful yet unavoidable decision on time and spare the country from six days of embarrassment. Athletes from many other countries have in the past dodged or even failed doping tests. Many top athletes from the United States were suspended before they even came to Athens. However, their misdeeds were never identified with their country. In the case of Kenteris and Thanou, procrastination and the attempt to cover up the fiasco on the part of Greece’s sports officials raised suspicions that the athletes were not the only ones involved in the scandal. In the end, Greece also appeared to be in the dock for the misdeeds of its top sprint duo. This has to stop. Once the Games are over, the authorities must get to the bottom of the issue and purge athletics of this powerful yet extremely troubling network of interests. The government must clean up Greek sports and shake up sports officials. The blatant hypocrisy and the foot-dragging – some say cowardice – was a huge embarrassment for the country, lending weight to those who urge a cleanup of sports. It would be disastrous if the mechanisms which are to blame were to eventually emerge intact from a debacle which undermined the image of Greece and cast a long shadow on these Summer Games.

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