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Pique'n'yer interest

Bad sports

Say it ain’t so Michael Rasmussen. Say it ain’t so Alexandre Vinokourov. Say it ain’t so Floyd Landis. Say it ain’t so Barry Bonds… Mark McGwire… Michael Vick… Sean Hill… Ben Johnson… NBA referee Tim Donaghy… the Chilean Under 20 soccer team… Tonya Harding… French figure skating judges… Zinedine Zidane…Todd Bertuzzi… Pete Rose… O.J. Simpson… Rick Tocchet…

Scandals are nothing new to professional sports. From the Black Sox scandal of 1919 to Michael Rasmussen’s shameful exit from the Tour de France last week, there have always been cheaters, floppers, chuckers and shavers, doing whatever it takes to win — or, if it’s financially beneficial, to lose.

Compounding that are all the stories of players behaving badly, like alleged serial dog-killer Michael Vick. More and more we hear stories of players getting arrested for drug offences, drinking and driving, assaults, domestic abuse, and generally acting like thugs. They have money, but no class.

It’s getting harder to be a sports fan in the wake of all these scandals, bad calls, and (let’s face it) bad people that have left a taint on the sports themselves. Are there any clean sports left?

Within days slugger Barry Bonds will surpass Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career homeruns. It should be a glorious time for baseball, but almost every recent article on Bonds brings up allegations of steroid use.

Hockey player Sean Hill became the first NHLer to receive a suspension after testing positive for steroid use since doping was banned in 2005. Hill received a 20-game suspension, and will miss the first 19 games of this season.

Even NASCAR has its issues, with Michael Waltrip’s team receiving a fine of $100,000 and losing 100 race points after being caught using illegal fuel additives.

Maybe all this scandal explains the popularity of wrestling — you know its fake but can still find it entertaining. My mistake is watching other professional sports and assuming they’re real.

What were all these disgraced cyclists on the 2007 Tour de France thinking? They have to submit a diary to drug testers informing them of their whereabouts at all times. Athletes also get tested at least twice a year, and at random when they compete. And when you win a Tour stage like Landis or Vinokourov, one day after you were clearly suffering at the back of the pack, you have to assume someone is going to come knocking on your door looking for your bodily fluids.

Vinokourov and Rasmussen have cost their sponsors and teammates millions of dollars, and have lost everything — money, the respect of their teammates, their sponsorships, their reputation, and their dignity. They will be forever known as cheaters, dopers, the riders that gave the Tour de France a black eye and set their sport back a decade. Sponsors will flee, events will be cancelled, prize purses will be lowered, and a generation of young riders will suffer for the actions of a few jackasses.

But here’s the kicker: Landis and Vinoukurov proclaim their innocence and blame faulty or corrupt testing at a French lab for all of their problems. Rasmussen never failed a drug test, but missed two scheduled drug tests before the Tour and was caught lying about where he was when he missed those tests.

That only really only proves that the regulations governing the sport and the methods of testing used are not perfected. As long as there are loopholes and athletes can see some wiggle room, they are free to proclaim their innocence until the end of time.

It’s time to close those loopholes once and for all. It won’t be easy or cheap, but consider the cost of doping, cheating, and other bad behaviour to sports — with two whole teams dropping out on three positive tests this year, and several other top cyclists on the sidelines for doping, how many millions of dollars have been lost? Sports at the highest level is a business, and getting caught cheating is bad for the bottom line.

Maybe all athletes in all professional sports — and it’s time we considered the billion dollar Olympic Games to be professional — should be made to sign a pledge to compete cleanly and to uphold certain values in their sport and private lives — while also acknowledging that they will be stripped of all medals, trophies, prize money, and their status as athletes if they mess up. In exchange, nations and sport organizations should work together to establish the most advanced testing technologies and procedures available, and create a system of rules and regulations governing those tests that takes human judgment out of the picture.

That includes officiating. Brett Hull’s foot over the line goal in the 1999 Stanley Cup should have been called back, just like the game in the 1986 where Diego Maradona punched the ball in the net. If video reviewed after the game shows that a player cheated, took a dive, or deliberately fouled another player, then they should either be suspended or fined heavily enough to make them think twice.

Because athletes are rewarded for being role models, athletes that break the law should also be punished by their sports. If American schools can suspend players and revoke scholarships for missing academic goals, why can’t we punish players who fail to live up to acceptable standards of conduct.

Cleaning up sports won’t be easy, but it’s necessary — there’s nothing else on television worth watching, and I hate wrestling.




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