Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Friday’s revelations regarding Russian state-sponsored doping is not what was contained in the McLaren report itself; it’s the fact that not a single athlete was caught prior to London 2012. Because, given what Richard McLaren has subsequently laid out on the table four years later, if anti-doping authorities were powerless to prevent this occurring now, then what hope do we have for what has happened in the past.
It’s no longer a conspiracy theory to assume that every single Olympic Games and World Championships has been swamped by similar levels of foul play. We knew of East Germany, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, but those cases are not so much the tip of an iceberg, but an ever-expanding glacier.
In McLaren’s own words, it was sporting corruption on an “unprecedented” scale. For this to be revealed in 2016, more than 30 years after a similar but, given the political climate, more difficult to police programme was carried out by East Germany.
The world is, technically, a far more open place now. Country’s cooperate more and, theoretically, information can be shared freely. But despite a greater cultural openness, athletics and the Olympic movement are facing the same problems they did decades ago. In the context of supposedly possessing greater awareness of doping practices following the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999, it’s arguably much, much worse.
As Sebastian Coe said in 2011: “What I can say to athletes coming to London is that we will have the technology in place that is in excess of any technology that you have ever encountered anywhere in the world, we will have the technology in place that is in excess of any technology that you have ever encountered. You come to London and you try that, we will get you.”
Coe did confess he couldn’t guarantee a drug-free Games, but what is abundantly clear is that the systems in place don’t work. The cheats aren’t within reach, they’re off in the distance laughing at these sort of grandiose statements.
Russia, laughably, were one of 181 states to have signed the International Convention against Doping in Sport in 2005.
WADA receive half of its annual $30 million budget from the IOC and the other 50 per cent from international governments. The increase must be stratospheric. Whatever the price of hosting the next Games – and Rio 2016 cost an estimated $4.6bn – it must be mirrored in the funding and resources WADA are given to work with. Because the integrity of not just athletics and the Olympics but of sport itself, are at stake here.
We know about Russia because McLaren has conducted an exhaustive and thorough review. How many other countries have escaped detection? Not only that, but how many other sports are operating with nations, teams, individuals, practising the same subterfuge. A large stone has been dropped in the lake and this is the ripple effect.
We are also at the stage now where growing public opinion is along the lines of: “why not just let them dope?”. That, alone, is a damning indictment of the repeat failures of organisations and their commitment to anti-doping.
Remember that this all began not with the will of those at the top to investigate Russia off their own backs, but with German broadcaster ARD and their series of exposes in 2014. We all hope and believe FIFA, World Rugby, the ICC, NBA, NFL, UCI etc, adopt stringent anti-doping policies to ensure this sort of behaviour can never happen. But hope is all we have.
The IOC said in a statement in July it could no longer trust Russia to host any major international sporting events. Yet in less than two years the country will be playing host to the biggest of them all: the football World Cup.
The man in charge of the bid that landed them the tournament has been directly implicated in the McLaren report – deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, who still sits on the FIFA Council.
FIFA will tell us they have the machinery and the motivation to ensure a clean World Cup, and we have no choice but to place our trust in them, despite our better judgement telling us otherwise.
Because we can never explicitly know the truth. And that is the scary reality.
Bill Belichick, more than anyone in the NFL, deserves the benefit of the doubt.
For even the staunchest ‘Hoodie’ supporter, the decision to trade away Jamie Collins is a difficult one to wrap your head around.
Collins is one of the best defensive players in the league and by sending him packing for Cleveland’s compensatory third-round pick in 2017, the New England Patriots are literally giving away a key cog for nothing in a season they’re contending for a Super Bowl.
Tom Brady is currently defying Father Time and looks like he can easily play into his 40s, but the fact is he’s still 39. Even if he prolongs his career, who knows how long he can remain at an elite level.
When hearing the news though, the kneejerk reaction among the Patriots faithful had to be disbelief, followed by an adage that’s proven to be right over and over again: in Bill we trust.
If this wasn’t New England, but any other team in the league, there would be nothing to defend. You don’t find athletes like Collins growing on trees or in every NFL draft.
Old school, burly linebackers have become marginalised in the modern NFL, while pass rushers and defensive backs are now even more sought after with the shift to a pass-heavy style of play. But that’s also made someone like Collins a valuable commodity. He has the rare ability to do it all on the defensive end, from rushing the passer to stopping the run to dropping into coverage.
He’s essentially a Swiss Army Knife, exactly the type of player the versatility-admiring Belichick adores, which only makes the trade more confounding.
Many will point to Belichick’s long history of moving on from veterans who, in hindsight, ended up being on the downward trajectory of their career – guys like Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Deion Branch and Richard Seymour.
There is, however, nothing to suggest Collins fits that mould. He’s a 27-year-old who, if anything, appears to be ascending. He
became an All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time last year and there’s been little evidence for any step backwards this season.
From what we can gather, the real reason Collins will experience the unfortunate drop from the league’s best team to its worst is for not seeing eye-to-eye with what the Patriots want to do.
Michael Lombardi, who worked under Belichick during the head coach’s time in Cleveland and then with New England in 2014 and 2015 as an assistant to the coaching staff, gave his opinion on the trade on Twitter, saying he wasn’t surprised and believing the linebacker had been freelancing too much.
Not surprised by the Pats trading Colllins. Not been playing well at all they need to get the defense fixed. This will get their attention— michael lombardi (@mlombardifoxtv) October 31, 2016
Collins on the second play of the game does whatever he wants and Bills gain 28 yards. Been happening all year. It was not going to continue— michael lombardi (@mlombardifoxtv) October 31, 2016
That could be why Collins played in 48 of 70 snaps against Buffalo this past week, compared to his usual role as an every-down player.
But all that is speculation at the moment. What we do know for sure is that Collins is going to be worth a pretty penny in free agency in the offseason and the Patriots have a slew of core players at the end of their contract.
Being able to re-sign those guys was what the Chandler Jones trade to Arizona before the start of the season was supposed to be for, but this could be two-fold. It could be Belichick sticking to his guns on what he feels a player is worth, or it could mean the other shoe will drop, whether that’s a trade or signing of a star.
Either way, Belichick and the Patriots will find a way to come out on the favourable end, because that’s just what they do.
Pakistan are not the most dynamic limited overs team in international cricket at the moment. They are currently placed ninth in the ODI rankings and seventh in T20s and face an uphill task as they hope to qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup.
Also, their four successive ODI defeats in England showed they fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to white-ball cricket. But the final two matches of the England tour offered a glimmer of hope.
Pakistan won the last ODI in Cardiff by four wickets and then clinched the one-off T20 in Manchester by nine wickets. Needless to say, it was a much needed set of results for the team and coach Mickey Arthur.
Pakistan now take on reigning world champions West Indies in a three-match T20 series here and it is a golden opportunity for the men in green to gather some steam in limited-overs cricket.
The Windies enter the series with a fairly weak side. There is no Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons or Andre Russell while World T20 winning captain Darren Sammy and coach Phil Simmons have already been shown the door. It can be said a big chunk of the team’s core is missing and this is where Pakistan can capitalise.
Pakistan hold a slight upper hand when it comes to conditions because the Windies play their home games on slow surfaces and in the heat as well. Which makes it even more important for Pakistan to land the first blow and not let go of the advantage.
In the batting department, left-handed Sharjeel Khan at the top of the order provides the necessary firepower while Umar Akmal’s return to form in the domestic circuit should mean some lusty blows lower down.
Their bowlers have experience on their side and with some big hitting Windies batsmen missing, the likes of left-arm quicks Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir should look to assert themselves.
But West Indies won’t just roll over. All-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard are the masters of the T20 game while Marlon Samuels has a long history of turning a match on its head.
The one aspect which the ‘hosts’ must be wary of is the spin threat of Samuel Badree and Sunil Narine. The two are the most dangerous limited overs spin attack in the world and if Pakistan can safely negotiate them, the coast should be clear from there.
The three-match T20 series is a great chance for Pakistan to maintain the momentum gained from the two wins in England and also get their house in order ahead of a tough season which sees them travel to Australia.
They have proven to be top class when it comes to Test cricket, which is reflected in their No. 1 ranking, but Pakistan need to be a lot more energetic in limited overs cricket.
Despite the talent in the West Indies side, it must be said that Pakistan have a good opportunity to get some positive results under their belt.
But if Pakistan fail to raise their level in favourable conditions, the road ahead in white-ball cricket will get even more rough.