Synopsis : Now a days we hear many scandals regarding doping in games to gain advantage which is very unfair to those athletes who do not take drugs. This blog focuses on this issue and gives a good examples of Nadia Comaneci who at the very young age proved that one can achieve greatness without the drugs.

How to spoil a game?

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Source Google photo of Nadia Comaneci

She was just a child and beautiful. Her body was perfect and supple when she took to the parallel bars effortlessly. It was so amazing that the judges were spell bound as we all were all over the world watching her on TV when she flipped with a grace and poise unseen on parallel bars since a very long time. She got the perfect 10 in the Olympic gymnastics competition. Her name was Nadia Comaneci.

She alone showed the world how rigorous training and discipline paid off and won her the gold medal at such a tender age. There were many such moments at the games that happen every 4 years somewhere. Countries compete to host the games which require investing billions of dollars in building the facilities, the stadia and the Olympic villages where the athletes would stay and in security.

It takes many years of intense labor, effort and a lot of money to finish the entire infrastructure under tremendous time pressure and the watchful eyes of the Olympic officials who are always nervous because the games have to start on time and cannot be delayed.

The Olympic torch is then lit and travels through many countries until it reaches the venue to light the giant torch there to mark the start of the games. The athletes from all over the world who had been training for this moment all their lives parade with their national flags in trepidation because they have to compete with the best in the world in every game and come away either with medals or in disappointment because everybody is watching them on TV.

I wonder what went through the mind of that child called Nadia when she was performing difficult flips on the bars but she knew.

It started thousands of years ago in ancient Greece where the games were held at first. The runner who brought the news to the king about the enemies congregating in massive numbers ran nonstop 30 miles and dropped dead of sheer exhaustion while whispering his dying words to the ears of the king. Thus the marathon race was born to honor the runner who thus died performing a duty.

Over the centuries, the games spread in popularity and attendance. The participants came from anywhere and for the first time an athlete was equal to anyone irrespective of his skin color and ethnicity. People loved and admired these athletes who did their best just to win a laurel of leaves that the king put on their heads because it was the highest honor.

The venues were primitive as compared to the present day and the games were limited in variety but they were revived after many centuries to honor and continue a great human tradition and spread to every continent on the planet. More types of games were added and specific stadia were built for them.

Now it is a multibillion dollar affair that includes huge revenues from ticket sales and the worldwide TV coverage franchise. At such times money is spent like water and the countries sending their teams put their prestige and national honor on line just to win.

The winners of gold, silver and bronze are showered with recognition, fame and very lucrative sponsorships that earn them millions of dollars. They are the stars that everyone talks about. Their countries honor them with gifts and cars and new houses.

The rot: This pressure to win at any cost has now introduced a cancer that is spreading and brings shame to the games that is casting a dark shadow over it. This cancer has a name. It is called cheating.

Have you ever wondered how come those athletes from East Germany, Russia and many other countries were winning so many medals and often by narrow margins? They were machine like in their performances and people marveled at their super muscular bodies that rippled in their wet suits. They were cheating.

It is called doping. They were taking performance enhancing drugs secretly to gain unfair advantage over their competitors who did not use drugs. Some countries will go to any length to take such measures just so that their athletes can bring home the gold.

One seven times winner of the tour de France finally admitted after denying it for years that he had taken such drugs to win. He lost all sponsorships and was forced to resign from his top post and banned from any future bike race.

Now the Olympic authorities have set up modern labs for testing the urine and blood of all athletes before they can participate in any game but this rot has reached the labs as well. The athletes were submitting clean water instead of urine so the system of testing itself has become corrupt because very large amounts of money change hands.

The dead athletes of Greece in ancient times are probably turning in their graves to know such corruption in such a beautiful game called the Olympics. They could never imagine that their glorified games would turn into this but it has.

A pure child like Nadia is perhaps an exception now. People lose their faith when they are told that doping is so widespread and lose their respect they once had for the game participants.

Once I was in Rome wandering through the campus of the University there on the banks of the river where an Olympic was staged I don’t remember when. You just have to take a right turn from the Vatican, follow the road all the way to the river and you will come to the University campus. Just across the river is the youth hostel where I used to stay.

I saw the beautiful mosaic of tiles on the ground depicting various games that Olympic Games included. These mosaic pieces made of tiny colored pieces of ceramic were beautiful and just like what you see in Pompeii and other places but now they were broken in places and missing in some parts. It is hard to imagine that it was once a venue of the Games because it looks shabby now.

This brings me to another subject related to the games. It is the enormous cost of hosting the games and later getting into a financial mess because of borrowed money just like in Greece and Rio. The glitz and glamour of brand new venues is to impress the world so the world is impressed. The fireworks, the colorful parades, the fluttering of flags, giant TV monitors, the tight security everywhere, the new buses and hovering blimps all come at a cost but who is counting?

If you see the same venues in Athens or Rio and elsewhere you will be shocked. They look abandoned, full of weeds and in disrepair because no one uses them and the paints fade just like the beautiful but damaged mosaic in the campus of the Rome University.

So the question is why countries go through such enormous expenses just to host the games for a few days and then pay the costs for years to come? It is because the prestige the games bring so for a few weeks a country becomes the center of attention of the world. The tourists come in large numbers and the hotels and related industries reap the benefits for a while. But often the expensive tickets to the games are unsold because poor people can’t afford them and they watch them on TV at home.

There is nothing more discouraging to a world class athlete than to see the near empty seats in the stadium because they thrive on accolades just like in ancient Greece. But the ticket price remains high. Finally the games are over, the torch extinguished in dramatic ceremonies and the athletes start packing to go back to their countries. Soon the vast stadia are empty and desolate where they were packed with people a short while ago.

This tradition of hosting the games in new locations every 4 years continues and new athletes start training rigorously with hope to win the next time.

The sporting countries like the United States, Russia, China, Australia among others take home most of the medals but others are lucky to win just a few medals and many do not win at all. They say that winning is not everything and participating is everything but I am sure all athletes want to go home with medals so some cheat while others who train honestly for years bite the dust. Who can compete with drugs?

I have seen how a great nation like India spends so little in training the boys and girls to participate in the Olympic Games. They do not have facilities, trainers, money for their proper nutrition so many aspiring boys and girls train under such conditions. Given the proper attention to their needs, they too can shine and become world class without the drugs. Human beings all have the potential to excel given the proper environment.

I like to see the Olympics games free from scandals and doping problems. I would like to see the games played on a level playing field where everyone has a chance to succeed no matter where he comes from because that was the ideal of the original Olympic Games. Most athletes are not cheats and dopers. The long distance runners are often from Kenya or Ethiopia where they practice running away from cheetahs or lions and develop their running skills naturally without drugs.

I would like to see the games not politicized by any country for their political ends. Remember when Russia refused to attend the games in the US and the US retaliated? This is not the ideal of the games but politics and corruption ruins the games and countries are left holding the bag. Perhaps one day all athletes will stand up and fight the corruption and play clean games. Only then the Olympics will be restored to its original glory but I am not holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon.

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I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.

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