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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sympathy for Marion Jones?

It's not because my family name is Jones that I feel sorry for Marion Jones. Nor is it because she is now married to Barbadian Obadele Thompson that I feel sympathy for her. After she admitted tearfully that she had lied about her use of steroids I cried inside. As a boy I had been a track star for about 10 years winning many sprint championships in England. I had never been tempted to use anything to make me run faster. Why would I want to put something bad into my body? I was not even tempted by alcohol. I was never approached by anyone to use any foreign substance to improve my performance. For a long time I never went into a gym to build up strength; I worked on building sites in my holidays, ate sensibly, did not smoke, studied hard. Maybe no one thought I was good enough to be worth tempting.

When I was running in the mid-late 1960s/early 1970s I was surrounded by great athletes at my club, including Olympic Champion hurdler, David Hemery (Mexico 1968 now a sports performance consultant--see photo alongside and website); also Olympic silver medallist and European and Commonwealth champion hurdler, Alan Pascoe (pictured after a graduation). There were also immense figures always on hand to give advice such as Commonwealth and European Champion shot putter, Geoff Capes (who once was a policeman and later became a personality strongman). I saw them as direct role models in terms of what hard training and dedication could bring. I certainly did not see them as people who would take drugs to make them better. Maybe it was part of the sport then that most people just used what talent they had, worked harder, and made more sacrifices.

Those were the days when athletics was mostly amateur. I remember the problems I had during the late 1960s/early 1970s with my amateur status because I also played soccer/football for a team that paid money. I never took money and had to leave the room/club to avoid being present during payments. Maybe values and the pressure to gain more money changes an athlete's approach. If so, I wish the clock had never moved forward.

Now it seems that Marion Jones has seen the light. "My passion in life has always been my family" she is quoted as saying as she pleaded not to be separated from her two young children. That seems hard to believe and Judge Kenneth Karas was not convinced by Jones' limited admission and plea bargain. He felt that a message needed to be sent to those who had ignored the principles of hard work and dedication in favour of using steroids and performance enhancers and thought they were above the law.

Jones' sentence of six months in jail, 2 years' probation and supervised release to include 800 hours of community service will give her a good second chance and allow her to develop as a better role model for youngsters. She could be one of the best things for sport by having to see her "fame" and records just go up in smoke. Jones' coach, Steve Riddick, also got a sentence of 5 years in jail, 3 years' probation and having to repay U$375,000 for his part in the check fraud. At 32, she is young enough to remake herself and use her eloquence and experience to do better for herself and others, especially young athletes of all type. She will have to find a lot of courage to deal with the personal and family humiliation; her children will bear a lot of that pressure too.

The risk of getting caught is usually the most effective sanction against doing wrong. Those who prey on exploiting people's desires to do all they can to get gains will continue and the suppliers of the illicit products are still out there plying their trade and finding customers everyday. Unfortunately, for every BALCO that is exposed there is likely to be a new supplier starting up, whether an individual or a bigger enterprise. But they cannot be really stopped unless there is no demand. The demand means money and once athletes and others (including gamblers and other criminals) can get large payments from these practices it's hard to see how the trade in illicit products will stop.

Marion Jones has lost her medals but many would say that she needed to lose prize money too. The only way that sports and society in general can work against elements that are viewed as illegal is to continue to expose those who are responsible. Sport develops enormous bonds of friendship and it is sometimes very hard to "squeal" on team mates, coaches, or friends. But those who are undermining the sport are doing a disservice to all those who are not doing anything wrong because everyone gets tainted. So get used to denouncing the wrong doers. Sports administrators and officials also have their duties and crass behaviour such as profiteering from selling free tickets, betting on games, or other forms of corrupt behaviour need to be treated as equally bad as athletes taking drugs. If there is to be "zero tolerance" it needs to be applied evenly.

Marion Jones now knows her immediate future will be as a convicted person. Yesterday's glorious moments of being first to the tape and the accolades showered on a winner have been replaced by the distaste in people's minds as she is now seen as a person notorious as a drug abuser and check fraudster. Let's see how she rebuilds herself.

2 comments:

Esteban Agosto Reid said...

No sympathy for Marion Jones from me. Marion Jones deserves prison time for her fradulent behaviour.Certainly, she will have a considerable amount of time to think about her past and her future!!

zanne said...

Unfortunately we have reached an era in athletics where the value of the athlete is measured by the amount of revenue he or she produces through endorsements and sponsorships...If Marion is being held accountable then I can only hope that all of the American Baseball players involved in the BALCO scandal are equally punished.