COLUMN

The sportswriters’ big drug coverup

Allan Fotheringham April 24 1989
COLUMN

The sportswriters’ big drug coverup

Allan Fotheringham April 24 1989

The sportswriters’ big drug coverup

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

Could we back up a bit? The established order is beating up on Canadian athletes at the moment. It is juicy reading. The established order is represented by the Dubin inquiry into the mobile drugstore that masqueraded as our Olympic track team. Weightlifters have testified as to routine training-room practices that have made every other male in Canada curl into a little ball of pain on hearing the evidence. The established order is hearing enough testimony that, when printed, will weigh more than the Exxon Valdez and has already made world headlines.

There’s only one problem. The established order got us into this fix in the first place. The very highest established order. Meaning the government of Canada. The sports pages don’t tell us much about this, while beating up on poor old Ben. The source of all this evil, as the source of much of everything else wrong with the country, rests in Ottawa.

Some two decades ago, with the nation in its usual state of angst, there was all the moaning and despair among the jock writers about Canada’s supposedly disgraceful standing in the Olympic totting up of gold medals and silver and bronze. That we finished behind European countries we couldn’t even pronounce. Gloom and doom. And so on.

The government of Canada decided to do something about this, the government—as with all governments—prepared to do anything possible to remain the governing party. This government happened to be Liberal and, being Liberal, determined immediately that all that was needed was money. Without much fanfare, without publicity, it set out to emulate the East German model for mass-producing world-class athletes—the model so dumped upon by the sports pages.

Ottawa’s decision to get into state-supported jockdom came in 1972 under Health Minister John Munro. It was accelerated by the unlikely figure of Marc Lalonde in that post. The Czarina of Sport, the statuesque Iona Campagnolo, enthusiastically continued the mission in the new portfolio of fitness and amateur sport.

Amateur it ain’t, as the Dubin revelations have shown. Ottawa set out ruthlessly to emulate the Eastern European jock factories. Canada became the easy rider of international sport, piggybacking off coaching talent from abroad. Let’s look at who coached Canada at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, when we were so determined to show off before the world.

Head track coach Lynn Davies, a former Olympic champion long-jumper, was hired, for big bucks, from Wales. Sprint coach Gerard Mach—still there in Seoul—was brought in from Poland. Derek Boosey came from England. Weights coach Jean-Paul Baert was imported from France. Tudor Bompa came from Romania to coach rowing, assisted by Kris Korzeniowski from Poland. Basketball? Jack Donohue, Steve Konchalski and Brian Heaney from New York.

The two cycling coaches were from Britain, the manager from Holland. Fencing? From

Romania. Women’s volleyball? From Korea. Handball? From Morocco. Water polo? From Hungary. Swimming? From Australia, England and Scotland. In all, 27 professional coaches smuggled in from abroad to do what Ottawa (i.e., Sport Canada) decided we couldn’t do ourselves on the way to becoming a mini-East Germany. One should never underestimate Canadian pride.

In 1970, Ottawa spent $5 million to subsidize sport. By 1978, the budget was $30 million and by Seoul it was untraceable in the stratosphere, most of it apparently going to poor Ben,who could buy a $257,000 Ferrari so as to go to the 7-Eleven to pick up groceries.

The extent of the government umbilical cord could be seen by the fact that a year before Montreal, Bruce Kidd, the former distance star turned radical (i.e., with unusual ideas) professor, suggested Canadian Olympic athletes go on strike since they were being used by the state for political purposes. Of course they were. When 60 per cent of the athletes supported him, Ottawa upped the ante and increased the cheques going to those who had achieved world ranking. The sports-page myth went on that Canada was in lousy shape on the international sports map. It wasn’t and isn’t. At the 1972 Olympics, Canada was ranked 21st in the world. At Montreal in 1976: 11th.

Who was ahead of dear little Canada? Naturally, the state-produced automatons of Eastern Europe took four of the top six positions. But only three non-Communist countries—the United States with 217 million citizens, West Germany with 62 million and Japan with 113 million—surpassed Canada.

This state-supported sports program, in fact, has world status. In swimming, Canada is usually no worse than third. We have several of the best shooters and archers in the world. Our men’s basketball team flirts with fourth ranking. Sailing? Several of the best in the world. Rowing the same. Wrestling and the lighter divisions in weightlifting are world rank.

Rather than moaning, the jockdom journalists might look inward. Where were Toronto sports scribes as Ben Johnson miraculously developed the physique of a body builder? We now know that his coach, Charlie Francis, was known sardonically in the trade as “the Chemist.” Why were we not informed then?

The answer is quite obvious. Just as Ottawa, and the Canadian public, wanted more spectacular Olympic results, the sportswriters covering Ben Johnson didn’t want to examine those amazing new muscles. They wanted gold.