Fans deserve to watch drug-free athletes play

Get caught playing baseball with a corked bat and the nation freaks out.

Win national titles and medals with the help of performance-enhancing drugs and some sports officials will conveniently look the other way.

With the Olympic games in Athens about to start, fans deserve to know they’re watching the best athletes, not the “best” drugs, compete to win. After the 2000 Olympic games were dubbed by some as the “Olympic shames” and the “Drug Olympics” you’d think many sports associations would have their acts together by now. Given recent revelations about drug use in numerous sports, both inside and outside the Olympics, it’s clear that hasn’t happened. The use of drugs and spotty enforcement of the rules isn’t fair to the fans and it’s certainly not fair to those athletes who compete drug free.

Officials must get serious about enforcing drug rules in their sports if they expect an increasingly cynical fan base to keep watching.

It’s ironic that some people who give up nearly everything to master their craft cannot give up the allure of drugs that could taint their career and accomplishments. But drug use in sports is nothing new. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, athletes mixed alcohol and drugs to dull the pain and used heroine and cocaine to improve speed. It took decades for officials to catch on and devise effective tests. Even now, athletes find ways to sneak around the system until an improved test comes along to expose them.

Even if officials enforced the rules to the fullest extent, chances are some athletes would still try to beat the system. Their stories would make the news and fans would be frustrated and disappointed, but at least we would know officials were taking the matter seriously and weeding out the bad athletes.

U.S. track and field officials have known since at least the 1988 Seoul Olympics that doping was a major problem when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids and was stripped of his gold medal. Yet, drug use is still such a huge controversy that people couldn’t even watch the U.S. Olympic track and field trials last month without wondering if a few of the winners would actually be going to the Olympics.

Now comes news that U.S. sprinter Calvin Harrison won’t be going to the Olympics because of a drug violation. Will there be more?

Lifetime bans for early offenses is sounding more appealing, and possibly the only way to deter doping in sports.

When fans watch their favorite athlete take the top spot, they want to know they deserve to be there. They shouldn’t have to wait for a drug test to prove it.

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