Sponsors missing from action in war on doping: whistleblower

Fri Aug 12, 2016 8:54am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mitch Phillips

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Doping in athletics could be slashed overnight if sponsors showed any will to eradicate it, according to Steve Magness, the coach who blew the whistle on an elite Nike-sponsored athletics program but now feels like a pariah in the sport as a result.

Doping scandals have torn athletics asunder over the last two years, and are souring the mood at the Rio Games where some competitors have been loudly booed, but Magness says there is an easy way to make an immediate sea-change.

"I guarantee that if the sponsors said 'hey, we want to clean up the sport', you could get rid of 70-80 percent of the problem right there," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"If sponsors said 'we are never going to support anyone who tests positive, never supporting coaches who have or have had athletes who take drugs, never supporting agents who have supported drugged athletes'... They could snap their fingers and that would eliminate a huge part of the problem."

Magness says Nike in particular can make a big impact as the dominant sponsor of U.S. athletics, by refusing to support athletes who have ever tested positive. He criticized its backing of 2004 Olympic 100 meters champion Justin Gatlin, who has twice been banned for doping and will line up at Rio.

Nike declined to comment for this article.

The company has shown some sensitivity to doping among those it sponsors. It initially suspended its deal with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova in March after she tested positive for meldonium, which she said she used to treat diabetes. Tennis authorities banned her for two years in June, though it ruled the doping was accidental. Nike has resumed her sponsorship.

Nike is also not alone in sponsoring athletes who have had positive doping tests, depending on the circumstances.   Continued...

Maria Sharapova of Russia speaks during a news conference at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia on January 1, 2013. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz/File Photo