This week, the world of track and field was hit with some heavy news when the IAAF decided to provisionally ban Russia from international track competition because of state-sponsored doping allegations. As a professional track athlete, it’s saddening to hear the reports of widespread cheating (particularly blood doping) in our sport. In addition to Russia, many other athletes from around the globe are slowly being caught by WADA (the World Anti Doping Agency), and with that the record books and medal counts of Olympics-past are being re-written.
While catching the cheaters and enforcing bans is a necessary step in the right direction for our sport, the reality of wide-spread cheating stings the heart of clean athletes and devoted fans. How awful to think of the runners who narrowly missed a spot in the finals, or a spot on the medal stand, all because one or more runners in front of them cheated.
Growing up, we were always taught that “cheaters never win.” But then BBC reports that at least 55 gold medals won in endurance events at the Olympics and World Championships between 2001 and 2012 came with suspicious blood-test results. It sure seems like cheaters do win, and often!
So how are we as athletes and fans of the sport to react? Many are bashing the IAAF and/or WADA. Some believe that clean athletes should organize boycotts. Many of us want change, but fear it will never fully transpire. Some just sulk at the statistics, making claims that “our sport is doomed.” Well I do believe that change is needed, but I do not believe our sport is doomed. I still believe that cheaters never really win, and I’ll explain why.
The same morning I woke up to the news about the IAAF suspending Russia, I sat down and read the following from my daily devotional:
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:15
This really struck me. The fact is, no matter what foolishness or evil is going on in the world, we must be thankful that we have the freedom to do good. As athletes, we have the freedom to compete clean, and to be positive examples for fans and future stars. On the contrary, many believe they have the freedom to cheat and use their freedom as a cover-up for evil. Of course, choosing the latter would be foolish since most of these athletes end up getting caught. But for some, most of the time means nothing, and the rewards of fame and fortune outweigh the risks.
There will always be people out there who are willing to take that risk. There are those who believe that cheaters CAN win with no regrets. However, I believe that by choosing to do good you are choosing to be a real winner; one who’s reward can be everlasting.
I don’t believe that wanting to win is a bad thing. In fact, St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians saying, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it!” Paul goes on to explain that he is not running for a perishable wreath (the type of crown placed on the champion’s head at the Olympic Games), instead his motivation is a crown that is “imperishable.” He is speaking metaphorically here in reference to “the race of life,” and his journey of faith. This is the one race we cannot win based on achievements.
I know I may not win every footrace, and there will still be a sting when scandals like the recent ones surface. But instead of letting these realities destroy me, or steal my drive, I know I must remain focused on my own power to do good. I refuse to let other’s decisions deter me from doing my best at running the race of life.
“Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9.