Spectators’ protest

The vast majority of the Greek spectators who were on the stands of the Olympic Stadium on Thursday evening do not believe that sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou are innocent. Most will concede that the two athletes and their coach Christos Tzekos did everything they could to dodge the drugs tests and that the supposed motorbike crash was a badly staged cover-up. Finally, they believe that the reckless and provocative behavior of Kenteris and Thanou caused serious damage to themselves and the country, casting a long shadow over an otherwise successful event. But this did not prevent them from shouting «Kenteris, Kenteris» from their stands. Their protests had more than one object. They were not so much prompted by Kenteris’s withdrawal from the Games, but by his unprecedented disgrace – which people felt went too far. First of all, the IOC spokesman did not hesitate to hold up the accreditations of the two athletes before the eyes of hundreds of journalists as if their documents were the trophies of a bloody combat – despite the widespread impression that the IOC is vulnerable to outside pressures that result in the selective enforcement of doping controls. However, protests were also aimed elsewhere: firstly, at those who joined in the chorus of condemnation at home. Turning the spotlight on the issue is one thing but seeking to humiliate the protagonists is quite another. Most people believe that Kenteris and Thanou are old enough to be held accountable for their actions. They do not see them as the victims of some dark conspiracy. No doubt Kenteris’s victory in Sydney upset the US domination in the 200-meters competition. It is no coincidence that following his triumph Kenteris became a target for the IOC and the Western media. However, this is only one side of the story. The other is that his behavior gave his foes a perfect excuse to attack him. Greeks feel the condemnation of Kenteris is to a certain extent unfair. Perhaps it is because they are convinced that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is the rule rather than the exception among top-class athletes. World records and medals are not just the product of hard training – chemistry also has its share. These days, doped athletes are the ones who are caught (and the ones who get all the humiliation). Anyone who uses last-generation drugs that are still undetectable is a hero. And so is any athlete who enjoys protection from those on high. As things stand, public skepticism is justified even if IOC chief Jacques Rogge is making sincere efforts to curb drug use. The bitterness felt by the Greek people and their emotional protest on Thursday is not unjustified. But as the hosts, they should have avoided aiming the boos at the competitors.

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