Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it”. But what is being revealed in modern sporting practice is a win at all costs attitude and a willingness to go beyond the bounds of natural skill and talent. In high profile sport these days, it’s becoming less about the athlete and more about the team physician.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, or holidaying in the Antarctic, you have probably read or listened to Lance Armstrong’s shocking revelations about blood doping and drug use in the ranks of professional cycling. Speaking with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted to using cortisone, EPO, Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and blood doping. The seven time Tour De France winner also affirmed his belief that he could not have won those titles without the use of such medical enhancement. Not because he was an inferior athlete naturally, these tactics have become necessary in order to compete.
Of course, Armstrong’s situation is not unique. Open any Australian newspaper recently and once the fatuous ramblings of our nation’s political leaders have forced you to turn to the sports section, you will be bombarded with tales of unethical medical practices and match fixing in the NRL and AFL. It seems that like the politicians, our modern sporting hero’s will do whatever it takes to win. Even if that means cheating.
Finally, I’d like to reflect on another saying from the legendary coach and remarkable person that was John Wooden. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be”. Unless we heed this advice, there may come a day when sport is no longer about athletes. A time when competition exists only to measure financial success, rather than courage and sacrifice. A game where winning comes down to the expertise of team doctors, rather than champion athletes. Until the day young Billy forgets the lessons that he learned all those years ago at little league. And joins them…
By Richard Rayner