Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Denying all older athletics records a futile exercise in revisionism

A proposal by a European Athletics task force to effectively rescind all world records before 2005, on the grounds that they cannot be verified, has many athletes up in arms.
Under the proposal's provisions, a world record would only be recognized if it fulfills three criteria: 1) it occurred at one of an approved list of events, where top level officiating and technical equipment can be guaranteed; 2) the athlete has been subjected to an approved number of doping tests in the months leading up to the event; and 3) the doping control sample taken after the record was stored and made available for retesting for at least ten years. As the IAAF only started storing and retesting doping control samples in 2005, any record from before that date would therefore not meet the final criterion, and so any pre-2005 records would no longer be officially recognized.
I understand where this is coming from, and the need to regain the public's trust after a plethora of high-profile drug test fails in recent years. Many world records still date from the 1980s, when illicit drug use was rife and there was no out-of-competition testing (and what testing there was nothing like as sophisticated as today's is). Apparently, many of the athletes and athletics authorities in Europe are strongly in favour of the idea (the British much less so).
But, as some of the athletes affected by the proposal point out, such a move would be incredibly disrespectful to the drug-free majority of athletes, who have already had to compete against cheats in attaining their achievements. To lose out again as a result of this proposal, would merely add insult to injury. Tarring everyone with the same brush seems unnecessarily brutal.
Records will continue to be broken, and it seems to me that all that can be reasonably done is to make sure that all new records are legitimate. Denying all older records seems like a futile exercise in revisionism.
The European task force plans to recommend its radical proposal to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF, the main organizing body for international athletics worldwide) at its next major meeting in July this year.

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