Joseph Wiseman, playing Dr No in the James Bond film of the same name in 1962, turns to 007 and says the criminal mind is always superior because it has to be. How true those words still ring. The villains are always one step ahead of the authorities because their lifeblood demands it. This also applies to sport and doping cheats as was admitted to me by Arne Ljungqvist, former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) vice-president (2008-2013) and Chairman of WADA’s Health, Medical and Research Committee (1999-2014), in 2012 when I was covering the Olympic Games in London.
Ljungqvist pointed out that while anti-doping agencies have made tremendous strides, they are only able to catch those guilty of violating what WADA already knows. In other words, WADA can only act on the intelligence it already has. The Swede was honest enough to admit that there would be no way to know if the Games were clean or not until after the event, perhaps even long after.
And indeed that has proven to be true. More than three years after the thought, Dick Pound, a former WADA president and head of the independent commission that revealed the latest evils in athletics, has recommended to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) be suspended while five of its athletes be banned altogether and stripped of their medals, Olympic or otherwise. Kenya, so dominant in distance running for the longest time, has also been implicated. But the Russians are the ones who will most interest South Africans, particularly Caster Semenya.
The 800-metre athlete stands to gain from Russia’s losses. It was Mariya Savinova who beat Semenya to world and Olympic gold in 2011 and 2012 respectively. A ban and stripping of medals and titles would elevate the South African to 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic winner. While it sounds exciting, all it really does in practice is substitute the silver medal on the 24-year-old’s wall at home with a gold one.
Semenya will in no way benefit financially and the real tragedy is that there is no real way of calculating how Savinova has benefitted. As Cameron Van Der Burgh (2012 Olympic breaststroke champion) once told me, being an Olympic champion gives an athlete the opportunity to milk it for all it is worth for four years. Van Der Burgh has certainly done just that, as has Chad Le Clos. Para-athlete Oscar Pistorius certainly cashed in. These economic benefits do not just extend to prize money but also appearance fees, sponsors, endorsements, speaking opportunities and the like. Imagine the kind of money disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong raked in from his seven Tours de France “victories”.
No doubt Semenya would love a gold medal instead of the silver currently in her possession but in a country where rugby players, cricketers and footballers live comfortably and earn enough to be able to retire; and are virtually assured of a job in television and/or radio when they retire, athletes need to take advantage wherever and whenever they can. For Semenya the parade has passed by and the only way she can enjoy those benefits is by winning the gold medal in Rio De Janeiro next year. Even then, she will benefit from four years of being everyone’s darling as opposed to the eight she might have had had it not been for deliberate cheating. As The Offspring once sang in their 1998 single Have You Ever: ‘The truth about the world is that crime does pay’.
Cheating might not have guaranteed Savinova’s gold medal’s omnipresence in her trophy cabinet, but her bank balance does not seem to mind too much.