Disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson claims athletics is much dirtier now than in the 1980s when he was competing and says more funds must be given to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in order to counter the cheating epidemic that is taking over the sport.
Johnson tested positive for stanozolol and was stripped of his gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics in the 100m event – a race which has been dubbed the dirtiest race in the history of athletics, with six of the eight finalists all implicated in doping scandals.
The Jamaican-born Canadian, who will be speaking today at the Sport Versus Crime conference in Dubai, has repeatedly said he had taken performance-enhancing drugs because everyone he was competing against at the time was doing it and he believed it was the only way to be on a level-playing field with his rivals.
Still, Johnson insists athletics now is in a worse state, in terms of doping, than two decades ago when he was caught.
“The sport is much dirtier now than it was then because there is greater prize money, greater sponsorship so the athletes see that and want to take a shortcut by taking performance-enhancing drugs or cheat – whatever you want to call it.
“The people who are making these drugs are trying to stay ahead of the game of testing,” Johnson told Sport360 yesterday ahead of the three-day conference, which will be held at the Rayhaan Rotana Hotel in Deira starting today.
“But if the International Olympic Committee or the IAAF (athletics world governing body) give WADA more funding to watch this then you’re going to see a lot more athletes testing positive and that’s what we’re trying to achieve. The money WADA is getting is not enough to do what they want to do.
“The drugs I was taking is only used for recovery. The dosage I was using was very mild compared to what these guys are using now. These guys are using like four, five times what I was using, so you can tell that it’s very dangerous and very widespread.”
According to official IAAF statistics, a total of 2,814 drug tests were conducted last year compared to just 820 back in 1990.
There had been a series of failed drug tests by high-profile athletes during the lead-up to last August’s World Championships in Moscow, including sprinters Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown, and Johnson says it came as no surprise to him.
“I’m not surprised (these people got caught),” he added. “But at the same time I’m not going to point fingers now, I never pointed fingers then. I know what they’re doing and it’s just a matter of the word coming out when they test positive.”
He also says he wasn’t shocked when Lance Armstrong was caught, adding: “The mistake he made was coming back. He should have taken his $75 million and enjoyed himself with his family. But he came back, and not just that, the way he treated people was wrong and that’s his problem and that’s what is really hurting him right now.”
Johnson is currently the face of a new anti-doping campaign that urges athletes to “choose the right track”. It is now 25 years since that tainted 100m sprint in Seoul and he claims he has moved on.
“I’ve accepted what happened. This is life, this is my adventure through life to make me stronger and to have that experience and knowledge,” he says.
“When I said yes to drugs, I didn’t have a second opinion as a young child. I was very young when this thing occurred to me, I was like 21, 22 years old. If I had told my mother that this was said to me, she wouldn’t have allowed it to happen. But I kept it to myself, I made my own choice. I won the Olympic Games, lost the gold medal, lost everything, changed my life completely.
“Now I want to send a message to the young generation, don’t do the same thing I did 25 years ago.”
The Sport Versus Crime conference – organised by Dubai Police – starts today at 11:00 and features speakers from 27 countries, including Johnson and Dubai-based football legend Diego Maradona.
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