The Olympic Games are the largest sporting spectacles globally. There are 39 days to go before the 2016 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, are due to take place from August 5 to 16 in Brazil, which is finalizing last-minute preparations to welcome athletes and spectators from all over the world. The games will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing unity and solidarity if all participants internalize and abide by the lofty ideals they embody. As a major sporting event where the flags of nations fly high, their national anthems are sung and cultures and traditions are displayed, billions of people tune in to follow the Olympics.
Up until thirty years ago, racism and political rivalry had marred the Olympics on several occasions. Since then, however, athletes from different corners of the world are competing in the games without facing racial or political discrimination. This, though, in no way implies that the Olympic Games are blemishless. In fact, they are confronted with the specter of a menacing challenge threatening to undercut their very integrity. The scourge of doping has become the single biggest problem undermining the principle of fair play that they stand for. In recognition of the gravity of the problem the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) unequivocally resolved to combat it ruthlessly. This is evidenced by the suspension in November 2015 of the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) from membership ofthe world athletics governing body for state-sponsored systemic cheating. Consequentlyathletes and athlete support personnel from Russia were banned fromtaking part in international competitions including the Olympicsunder the Russian flag even if they are accepted to be clean. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week upheld the ban on Russian with the caveat that Russian athletes who were able to prove they were clean enough would be allowed to compete and would go to Rio as part of Russia’s national Olympics team. Such an unprecedented step is a severe setback for one of the most successful sides in the history of athletics. It will take a long time for the country and its athletes to recover from the damage to their standing as a result of the sanction.
Russia is not the only nation that has been the focus of doping accusations. Kenya and Ethiopia were frequently mentioned by the media in relation to investigations into doping offences. Last month three Ethiopian athletes were formally suspended and another three were placed under investigation for testing positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs. The growing doping scandal has very much shocked the nation and its people.
Ever since Ethiopia first competed in the Olympics in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, it has produced a string of internationally renowned athletes. AbebeBikila became the first Ethiopian and indeed sub-SaharanAfrican to win Gold in the Olympics after he crossed the finishing line first in the 1960 Rome Olympics while running barefoot. His victory amazed the entire world. Similarly Derartu Tulu wrote her name in the annals of history by becoming the first female African to win an Olympic Gold when she romped to victory in the 10,000m race in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Four years later FatumaRoba achieved the feat of becoming the first African to win Gold in the women’s marathon at the Atlanta Olympics.
These are not the only Ethiopians who came out on top at the Olympics and other international events. The likes of MammoWolde, MirutsYifter, Haile Gebreselassie, KenenisaBekele, TiruneshDibaba, MeseretDefar and others are Olympic champions who did their country proud. Ethiopian athletes are also acclaimed for the exemplary teamwork they displayed in winning successive long-distance disciplines earning the team the moniker “Green Flood”. For a country which has such a glorious history the doping saga is a blot on its accomplishments and a traumatizing development. It is therefore imperative for the EthiopianAthleticsFederationand other concerned entities to go beyond condemning the cheaters and demonstrate that they have zero tolerance towards doping by punishing athletes involved in this despicable practice. Otherwise, the reputation Ethiopia has built for over half a century as a long-distance powerhouse, thanks to the feats of its heroic athletes, canbe dealt a debilitatingblow.
Ethiopia’s success in running disciplines has played a vital role in rehabilitating its decades-old image associated with internal strife and famine. Moreover, it has drawn athletes from different parts of the world to come to Ethiopia to train, thereby contributing its share to boosting revenue from tourism. Furthermore, it inculcates a winning mentality within citizens, strengthens the spirit of solidarity between them and inspires the youth to excel in their chosen field.
Ethiopian athletics is at a crossroads.To rub salt into the wound, the unheard of testing of a number of Ethiopian athletes positive for banned substances is being exacerbated by the rampant corruption in the sport and the escalating tension between athletes and the leadership of the national governing body. Unlessthese grave challenges are firmly and promptly tackled, the future of the country’s athletics and its hard-earned standing on the international stage as a nation of clean athletes are bound to suffer.