Getting the story straight

When we read Cathal Kelly’s column, from the November 5, 2014 issue of The Globe and Mail, entitled “Kelly: It’s not about A-Rod being clean, it’s about him coming clean,” we were shocked at how naïve and out of touch with Canadians the basic premise of the article was. We understand it can be a journalist’s job to be provocative; say outrageous things for effect. But are there no limits on the sensational? Do journalists not have some responsibility to their readers to contribute in a positive way?

Mr. Kelly acknowledges in his column that the behaviour of Mr. Rodriguez surrounding his performance-enhancing drug use (PEDs) reflects the behaviour of someone of very poor character. He concedes that lying, cheating, blaming others and paying people off to lie for you are not desirable character traits.

Mr. Kelly then argues that sport is about entertainment and as fans we want to be entertained and we don’t care what price the athlete or others need to pay to entertain us. He argues that the lure of multi-million dollar contracts in sport justify athletes using PEDs. Mr. Kelly seems to see athletes as inhuman commodities to be experimented with for the broader society’s enjoyment.  So, the core of Mr. Kelly’s argument would appear to be that money is king and whatever it takes to make as much money as you can in sport, it doesn’t matter about the means by which you achieve your fortune.

Let’s look at this argument in light of the role sport plays in Canadian society and why the vast majority of Canadians and Canadian athletes do not want PEDs in sport.

First and foremost, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is banned in sport because it is harmful to the health of athletes. Every substance and method on the banned list is there because of scientific evidence linking its use in sport to harmful health consequences. Mr. Kelly argues that these athletes are adults and if they want to take the risk, let them. In professional sport, huge financial incentives, in fact, may be seen to compel athletes to do so. However, it is not just those athletes that might be willing to risk their health – indeed their lives – that we need to be concerned about. We know from research that the vast majority of athletes around the world do not want to be forced to take the health risks associated with the use of PEDs. If we let those athletes willing to take the risk do so, we place enormous pressure on other athletes to have to use PEDs to keep up. To do this would be to fail as employers, as sport governors and as public authorities to exercise the duty of care we have toward our athletes.

Moreover, PED use in sport is fraud – plain and simple. Fraud has no place in any business. Would Mr. Kelly also argue that one can make millions of dollars in business by engaging in fraud and therefore who wouldn’t? So why then would he argue that it is somehow okay to make millions of dollars in sport by engaging in fraud through the use of PEDs?

But there is an even more compelling reason to have rules against PED use in sport. And that reason is, quite simply, the impact our top athletes have, as role models, on the decisions and behaviours of young children. If the message we send to young children in sport is: “the only way to make it is to use PEDs,” then our children will become willing victims; too young and impressionable to know better.  This would unleash a public health problem around the world of untold proportion.

Yes, sport entertains us. But sport is about much more than just entertainment. Sport is an incredibly valuable public asset. It has the potential to produce enormous good in our communities and country. When we get sport right; when sport is driven by values and principles including staying healthy, respecting others and playing fair, then sport can instill character in our kids, strengthen our communities and increase our chances for excellence on the world stage. That is why PEDs have no place in sport! They rob sport and our athletes of these positive benefits.

Adam van Koeverden, one of our greatest Olympians knows this.  He very quickly responded (http://goo.gl/Gq8zdL) to Mr. Kelly’s harmful piece.  Good for you Adam!  Adam is standing up for the integrity of sport and inspiring the next generation of Canadians to participate in true sport.

We all have a responsibility to stand up for integrity in sport. We all have a responsibility to protect athletes and young children from the pressures to use PEDs. We all have a responsibility to help sport realize its positive potential for our children, communities and country. We all share these responsibilities – including journalists!

Paul Melia                                            
President and CEO
Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport