Adidas last week announced it had suspended its sponsorship of the USA sprinter Tyson Gay after he and Jamaican Sprinter Asafa Powell failed a drugs test.
When the great Adi Dassler first started to produce his own sports shoes in his mother’s laundry room, he would probably never have dared to consider that those very shoes would one day contain the feet, veins and blood of an athlete contaminated with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Well, not those exact shoes.
Making it very clear that it does not want to be associated with Tyson Gay after he broke the most sacred law in athletics, ‘the brand with the three stripes’ has set the benchmark for other names whose sponsored party may find themselves in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The public’s mind works in illogical ways; if a sports star behaves poorly; their sponsor is somehow debauched as well. But however illogical, modern-day brands have learnt to prepare for this type of reaction.
In a PR nightmare for both athlete and brand (not to mention athletics itself – the credibility of which is now in temporary tatters thanks to two of the biggest names in sprinting), the priority for the athletes’ representatives will be to uphold positive media relations while the case is investigated. As is often the case with these stories, they make headlines and break hearts for a day or so, only to be usurped in the mainstream news agenda by a football transfer shock (or a Royal Baby!) Headlines are soon forgotten but that does not negate the need for the damage to be repaired behind the scenes.
Already though, Gay has provisionally lost his lucrative deal with Adidas, which is steering clear of the public relations struggles that will inevitably surround the athlete over the coming weeks.
Both Gay and Powell are insisting that they have never knowingly taken illegal substances and that they have been let down by someone else. In this instance, I am inclined to believe both of their stories to an extent, but whether this belief stems from what seems a logical explanation or rather a desperate wish on my part for both athletes (especially ‘good guy’ Gay) to be found innocent, remains to be seen.
Either way, it will be interesting to see whether the IAF’s anti-doping programme is perceived to have been enhanced or weakened each time such a high profile athlete is caught by a drugs test.
On one hand, there will be those who query how such athletes can compete for so long before being caught and, on the other side, there are those who believe it is a small victory for the sport every time the IAF is able to detect and remove an athlete who breaches the rules. Then, of course, there are those individuals who will defend the two sprinters, buying the athletes’ assertions that they are the victims in this story.
This latter point, however, begs the question of who exactly, if anyone, is doping these athletes and how are they able to roam so freely in and out of hotels and changing rooms, seemingly under the radar? The obvious suggestion is the athletes’ own personal trainers. Surely not. This somewhat cynical assumption of mine comes partly out of frustration at how easily this whole problem could be resolved by the introduction of a simple list that states what, and what not, an athlete is permitted to consume under the rules of athletics. This would leave no athlete ‘in the dark’ about supplements, while trainers and nutritionists would have far less scope to stretch the boundaries of what is legal in their eyes.
This latest revelation does, however, at the very least, dilute the argument that the authorities are inept in their approach towards catching drugs cheats. The system seems to be working and it should be praised, even if it results in the integrity of an event that encapsulates the Olympic Games being diminished further each time a naïve attempt to beat the system is thwarted.
Regardless of the above, it is so important that the 100m – such an integral part of world athletics – remains the exhilarating spectacle that we have come to expect, with no strings attached. Any issues which threaten the future of the event will now, no doubt, continue to be addressed with the highest priority and rightly so.
A hefty task of crisis management for teams Gay and Powell will now take place alongside the investigation, which overshadowed the otherwise successful weekend at the British Championships in Birmingham where there was an impressive performance from British sprinter James Dasaolu, who ran a new personal best in the 100m.
Gay and Powell meanwhile, the fastest and third-fastest men in the world this year respectively, have written themselves into the history books for the most shameful of reasons on a day that will forever be remembered as one of the most damaging in the history of athletics: 14th July 2013.
Image source: www.britishathletics.org.uk