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Why erasing world marks won’t clean image of the dope-tainted athletics

The proposal by European Athletics to wipe off world records set before 2005 in one go -- even if the argument that dope control wasn’t as tight as it is today isn’t weak -- is neither evolution nor revolution

other sports Updated: May 06, 2017 20:39 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
IAAF
USA's Mike Powell breaks the long jump world record with a jump of 8.95m at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. The staggering record, which eclipsed Bob Beamon’s ‘leap into the future’ 8.90m, set at altitude in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, is an important land mark in athletics history and Powell, as well as Al Joyner, the former Olympic triple jump champion and husband of the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, have threatened legal action if their records get erased by the governing body.(Getty Images)

At the height of the cricket match-fixing scandal in 2000, the one question that was floated, and seemed to carry some merit, was: Should administrators erase all the records, the numbers that ‘belonged’ to the tainted cricketers? It was only fair the player, having been found guilty, is not allowed to be a part of those achievements, individual or collective.

But such thoughts were put to rest due to a realization that cricket was a team game and it was impossible to wipe out one half of any performance. So, for all the types of fixing, and towel-as-signal-to-bookie moments we have had, not tinkering with performances has proved a practical decision.

The world of athletics can perhaps take a leaf out of cricket’s heavy statistics book. Rocked by doping scandals that have sunk the credibility of track and field to an all-time low, Europe Athletics has made a grand proposal to wipe out all world records set until 2005 – to usher in ‘a new, clean, credible era’. Or as Pierce O’Callaghan, head of European Athletics’ task force, said: “It’s just the evolution of the sport.”

Is it really? Yes, there is global consensus that athletics and many other disciplines need to address doping, especially after Russian authorities were seen as encouraging doping and the contingent was barred from the Rio Olympics. But erasing records set before 2005 in one go -- even if the argument that dope control wasn’t as tight as it is today isn’t weak -- is neither evolution nor revolution.

Yes, there is incredulity over some world records, including the 47.60sec in women’s 400m set by Marita Koch of erstwhile East Germany in 1985 and the 10.49sec in 100 m clocked by Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics being just two of them. But is removing the records selectively the solution?

For starters, the athletics bosses are not going for an altogether fresh start. That would be equally controversial, but at least the aggrieved won’t feel they alone have been targeted. But that would also mean nullifying Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m marks.

Powell’s mark

Mike Powell occupies an important place in the ‘evolution’ of track and field. He holds the men’s long jump record of 8.95m, set at the 1991 Tokyo worlds. The mark is staggering, yes, but it eclipsed Bob Beamon’s ‘leap into the future’ 8.90m, set at altitude in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

No wonder, Powell, as well as Al Joyner, the former Olympic triple jump champion and husband of late Griffith-Joyner, have threatened legal action while many others have protested.

Erasing world records could be showing disregard for human endeavour too – some are less about records and more about people pushing themselves beyond the utmost limit, the battles they won, the great moments.

For example, what will happen to Roger Bannister’s historic, first-ever sub-four minute mile, track and field’s first-man-on-the-Moon moment of 1954? After all, it was a world best set before 2005!

And what will happen to the Olympic records? If a record goes out of the books, won’t the medals lose their shine?

If nothing else, it’s too much hassle. But when have sports administrators put their hand up accepting their folly, and at times complicity, for the ills plaguing the sport they run?