Spectator sport

Abandon dope, all ye who enter here

26 November 2016

9:00 AM

26 November 2016

9:00 AM

The World Anti-Doping Agency has just called on Russia to confront its wrongdoing and generally shape up. Well, good luck with that boys. The great and good of Wada would be better advised to visit a sharp and troubling new play at the Park Theatre in London. It’s called Deny Deny Deny (standard advice to athletes accused of doping before they come up with some hitherto unknown medical condition) and is by a former TV journalist, Jonathan Maitland. It tells of a young star athlete called Eve (Garden of Eden anyone?) who as she aims for Olympic gold falls under the influence of a ferocious female coach who persuades her to try gene modification. To find out what happens you will have to see it (it finishes on 3 December) but it is utterly riveting.

The plot is futuristic, but not by much. The EPO gene is a small protein that increases the number of red blood cells, enhancing oxygen delivery and massively increasing performance and recovery levels in aerobic and endurance sports. If you are clean, you jack up your EPO by altitude training. If you are Lance Armstrong, and many, many others, you inject synthetic EPO, a process banned by Wada but difficult to detect. Whatever you think of Armstrong though, it wasn’t a needleful of dope that won seven Tours de France; it was Lance Armstrong. Even dopers have to have supreme talent.

All sport is about seizing advantage. Is some miraculous advance in training, kit or diet so very different from a chemical or medical tweak? Well, I think so, but are we living in fantasy land when we want sport to be pure, a level playing field? Arguably, that stopped when all sport turned professional and the money poured in. But deep down we know what sportsmanship is. Some don’t. There is a line in the play: ‘Do you know what the Russian for “sportsmanlike” is? No? That’s cos they don’t have one. They can’t grasp the concept…’

At a national level, one country may spend millions more on training, preparation and support. But it might not do the best. At an individual level, one competitior may have longer legs, more fast-twitch muscle, or ‘better blood’. And the wonder of pure, untainted sport is that sometimes those who are disadvantaged actually win. Sooner or later that supreme athlete, the greatest (and totally clean) Usain Bolt will be beaten.

If you didn’t know it was the season of fists and mellow brutalness, you must have missed the All Blacks in Dublin. Now the Irish can dish it out, as we know, but this was some game, and the New Zealanders should not be let off the hook just because they are back-to-back world champions. They are capable of bullying with their outstanding skills alone, but can also be bullies of a far nastier stripe. Against Ireland they turned on the thuggery and got away with what could have been murder given the number of unpunished high tackles. They must be told to stop.

He seems a good bloke, Gareth Southgate, and he is now sealed on for the England job. But to me he has the look of the ‘temporary interim manager’ no matter how often he does his Ed Miliband ‘Am I tough enough? Hell yeah’ routine. You can see him holding up the West Dullsville golf club winter Stableford trophy. But the World Cup? I hope I’m wrong.

The Rooneygate saga has gone mental, but we should give him a break. If he hadn’t popped in on that wedding party at the posh hotel he would have been called too stand-offish. Far more interesting that Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson are said to have nipped down to Bournemouth to wind down after the Scotland match at a lap-dancing club. Bournemouth!!?? Lap-dancing? Who knew? I always had it down as retirement home for Harry Redknapp rather than a thrusting, tits-out destination for the likes of Lallana. Quality.

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