If sport matters, honesty matters. A report from Ireland
By Tom Humphries
A man stopped me at the airport the other morning about Michelle Smith and [radio host] Marian Finucane yacking away the previous morning and we were baffled not just at Finucane's prolonged cheerleading for one of the biggest cheats in sports history but at the general level of delusion there is about cheating in Ireland. I got on the plane to Sydney wondering if it's not just a general problem with our culture.
Michelle was on with Marian to talk about what it was like four years ago to be excitedly planning for the Olympic Games. Marian's ignorance on the cheating business is wilfully pure and wondrous in a woman who is generally copped on.
So what were you doing four years ago Michelle? asked
"Well," Michelle might have said, but didn't, "I was submitting a dodgy freestyle swim from Florida which got two of the officials who signed for it sacked from their jobs but which fooled everyone else. That nicely screwed up the Olympics of my colleague Marian Madine.
"I had not long previously sent back a doping control form which said that I was the only Olympian who didn't
know where I would be just before the Games! And, of
course, most exciting, my banned, cheat husband had just been handed an accreditation by the Olympic Council of Ireland."
"Oooh. Very nice. Eat your heart out John Treacy," Marian might have said. But instead, much cooing: Michelle's achievements in Atlanta still stand, said Marian. Then Ronnie Delany came on (still can't get over the wonder of himself, poor Ronnie) and made fawning noises to Michelle.
What a kick in the teeth for any clean young athlete tuning in. Ronnie thinks Michelle is cool. Damn it, he should have refused to be on the same programme.
No mention of androstenodione. No mention of the forensics lab in the University of Lausanne that found no traces of external tampering with the containers that had the whiskey inside. No mention of Michelle's campaign to destroy Al and Kay Guy. No mention of missed tests.
Believing Michelle involves believing that 200 people in six separate institutions met up to concoct a plot against her. People in RTÉ (Irish Radio) seem to believe this.
Ah, but stop, I'm wasting my breath. I write all this not to kick Michelle when she is down, but because cheating is one of the themes of the pending Olympics and in good measure that's because of Michelle Smith. We Irish are about the only ones who still don't get it.
When Gary Hall and Kieran Perkins bickered the other day that Hall (banned once for smoking dope) whined that he didn't want to be bracketed with cheats like the East Germans, the Chinese and Michelle Smith, he was merely reflecting the fact that everywhere except in Ireland ("Michelle re-lives agony," said the Herald!), Michelle Smith is a byword for big time cheating.
Inside Sports magazine damned Inge de Bruijn last week by publishing a stat list of her improvements alongside a list of Michelle's improvements. A newspaper columnist expressing how right it was that the Chinese should withdraw athletes used mention of Michelle Smith to show how we've all been burned before.
Michelle haunts these Games. A man on the television the other day described the phenomenon of "I'm a victim, everyone else is a cheat" as "Michelle Smith Syndrome."
Another writer asked people to consider the chain of people who had been bumped down the line by Michelle Smith in Atlanta. So I did. Start with Marion Madine. Onto the kids who missed out on just being in an Olympic final because Michelle Smith was in it. Then the fourth place finishers almost touching bronze.
Finally, there were the kids who face chasing down
a list of dodgy Swim Ireland records. Ooops, nearly forgot all the kids who just worshipped Michelle as a hero.
Don't worry. Marian Finucane has reassurance. Michelle's Olympic achievements still stand! They do, they do. People speaking of them now more than ever. Elsewhere.
Look. It matters that Michelle cheated. It matters
that she didn't own up. It matters that sport be clean.
Go to the opposite extreme. Padraig Harrington calls a shot on himself in the US Open or loses a tournament he was going to win because of a scorecard error, well it matters that he did the right thing and with grace. If sport matters, honesty in sport matters.