Michael Milton reacts to Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport Report
I admit it. I was duped. Call me naive but, until last week when the ACC's report was released, I believed that Australian sports stars and athletes were mostly clean. I've been around sport a long time and I've trained and competed at a high level in a number of sports. I've been tested many many times. I've appeared in ASADA educational videos. I've even worked as a tester. I'm qualified to have an informed opinion. It appears I was wrong.
When news broke about Lance Armstrong's cheating and lying ways, I was shocked, disappointed and really angry. As an athlete, cyclist and cancer survivor, I had a lot of reasons to admire him. When he was exposed as a liar and a cheat I felt betrayed but I consoled myself with the knowledge that match fixing and drug cheating were largely confined to countries other than Australia and other people, not Aussies. ASADA and its educational programs, our proud sporting culture and a strong sense of fair play all made cheating downright un-Australian.
But it seems that none of that matters to elite athletes who need to get back on the field after an injury, for whom a big bribe is more valuable than the integrity of the game or for those athletes who just want more success, more money and more fame. Because, let's not kid ourselves: the apparent cheating epidemic that plagues sport in Australia is largely confined to elite athletes involved in the big sports that pay big money. When there is more at stake, the stakes get higher.
I don't care who you are or what sport you play, the promise of riches and fame is no justification for using performance enhancing drugs or taking a bribe to fix a game. I get that the pressure to perform can be enormous. I get that sport as a career can be dramatically short. I get that the returns for second-tier athletes can be very different to those at the top. I get that athletes can be tempted.
What I don't get is why they are not strong enough to resist. How can they live with their lies? How can they deceive those they love? Aren't they scared that the truth may one day come out and EVERYONE will know?
Call me soft but I could never look my mother in the eye and admit I cheated and, even before I had children, I knew my plans to be a dad would keep me honest. These cheats can't all be childless orphans!
I was lucky I guess. Much of my sporting career was spent competing in a low-profile sport: Paralympic ski racing. No-one wagered on the outcome, sponsors were rare, prize money was virtually non-existent and the few spectators who came to watch were usually friends and family. No-one ever offered me a bribe to blow a run or drugs to enhance my performance. See? Lucky to be part of a sport where the stakes were so low!
Some would say my resolve has never been tested but I would challenge that. I've given 25 years of my life to sport, studying and training just as hard as the next person to be the best I can be, to be stronger and faster, to stand on the podium with that trophy in my hand with little promise of financial reward or even recognition. Now, that's resolve! Sometimes I failed and sometimes I succeeded but I did it all without taking any shortcuts, without compromising my own values or betraying the ideals of sport. I did it without upsetting my mother.
But we need to be careful not to damn all clubs, all sports and all athletes until everyone has had a chance to investigate further and tell their story. Like me, there are sportspeople out there who are clean and honest. I would wager my mother's house on it! Just don't tell her.