See this published – HUFFINGTON POST
With the Rio Olympics fast approaching, track and field athletics is once again embroiled in scandal, controversy, and disgust. Or in the media it is. On Friday night I was lucky enough to bear witness to the electricity meter at the London Olympic Stadium explode with the buzz of the Anniversary Games. It was just fantastic for the world to focus solely on the talent.
I’m 17 years old, and have been a dedicated club athlete for nearly a decade now. I know what it’s like for the 99.9% of athletes, all of whom compete clean. On those bitter winter nights when the wind is gusting and the nation’s hand is putting on the kettle, we’re out battling the elements, building strength and endurance.
It was heart-warming and actually quite emotional to be at the centre of such excitement, inspiration and acclaim at the Anniversary Games. The noise level was insane, light and colour brighter than one could describe. There was endless love and admiration for the world’s greatest athletes; personal bests, world leads, British records and even two world records, were set left right and centre. The tunnel of noise for Laura Muir, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah was astounding. And what those watching on television didn’t see was the abundance of grassroots talent on show in the 4x100m relays for London athletes aged 12-20 earlier in the evening. What a night it was.
As one can only expect, those not involved in athletics often rely solely on trusted International media organisations for news about the sport. However, too often the only headlines written are those of disgust: alleged Russian state-sponsored doping, corruption embedded within the sport’s governing body the IAAF, alleged doping by Kenyan doctors working with certain British athletes and multiple-time drug cheats themselves, namely Justin Gatlin, being allowed to compete guilt-free on the global stage.
And what a great shame this is. The dopers form less than 0.1% of the sport, they don’t represent us – the real athletics community – and the authorities are constantly trying to eliminate them, as we saw with the decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian track and field athletes from Rio. Yet, it’s of such media interest, whereas the countless achievements in recent times of the young, bright current British athletics team are shunned from the headlines.
The ultimate goal of every athlete is to reach the Olympics or Paralympics. At London 2012, the spotlight was firmly on the athletics, and what an oozing summer of joy and gratitude it was as a result. For this, that year was special. Just look to the scandals of Olympics and Paralympics past and present, even today the fears surrounding Rio 2016 – the event is all politicised by the media.
Yes, London 2012 had its security fears, but hysteria surrounding Rio has been taken to another level by news hacks. Exploited workers, incomplete stadiums, police injustice, rising crime, the threat of hostile social inequality spilling out from the favelas, a perilous government, an economy drowning in recession, a soft target for fundamentalist terrorism. It’s the real world, yes. But hey, never mind the talented, immensely dedicated athletes who have worked tirelessly for years to reach this point, let’s just focus on the rumbling politics.
Although, resting all blame on the media would simply be unfair. The starry eyes of the International Olympic Committee have a tendency to permit the games to take place in countries with political situations bound to distract from the talent. Maybe the IOC looks to FIFA for inspiration, which has ludicrously entrusted Russia, a haven of corruption and lies, and Qatar, a den of instability and exploitation, with the next two World Cups.
And this is what made the Anniversary Games so special for me – they were a true and much-needed celebration of British and worldwide athletics, in its own light. Those thirsty readers and watchers across the globe could , for once, appreciate track and field without distraction, perhaps awakening them to the true reality of the sport.
Athletes young and old nationwide are training right now, as you read. They are gritting their teeth reaching personal goals and breaking boundaries, whatever they may be, pursuing a sport that they love. Not only those club-affiliated, but running groups and casuals alike. They love running, jumping and throwing, we love it, and have every reason to do so.
At 9am every Saturday morning, runners from every walk of life, age regardless, ability regardless, turn up in parks across Britain to do a ‘Parkrun’. The free initiative sees thousands running a 5k, pushed all the way with friendly and confidence-boosting support from volunteers and the local community. Rain or shine, windy or still, warm or chill, they love it anyway, even if it may not feel like it in the last kilometre.
This is what athletics is about; this is our community. It’s not cheats, it’s not corruption, it’s not politics – it’s doesn’t even have to be about hurtling down a 100m straight in less than 10 seconds. It’s about you, your passion, commitment and enjoyment, and every one of us makes the sport that today more than ever inspires generations. If our media and the IOC could get their act together, we could inspire yet more, and as real athletes know all too well, anything is possible. Rio is special, the London 2017 World Championships are special, and we will make them amazing, as they deserve to be.