Tuesday, November 22, 2011

As The Stomach Churns

by Savannah

The following is an article that featured comments by French Open winner Yannick Noah that originally appeared in Le Monde, the French newspaper. The translation was done by another French newspaper, Le Figaro.


Singer and former athlete Yannick Noah has unleashed a  tempest in both France and Spain with statements published in the French newspaper Le Monde this weekend. He accused Spanish athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“How can a nation start to dominate a sport to this degree overnight?” questioned the former tennis player, who is famous for winning the 1983 French Open. “Sport today is a little bit like Astérix at the Olympics: if you don’t have a magic potion, it is hard to win. And now it seems like the Spanish have fallen into the cauldron. Lucky devils.3

The French celebrity finished in addressing the legalization of drug use.
“The best attitude to take is to accept doping,” he said. “Then everyone will have the magic potion.”

These statements unleashed severe responses from either side of the border. Noah’s son Joakim is a basketball player for the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. While playing for the French national team in August, lost to Spain.

Spanish Sports Minister José Luis Saez said Yannick Noah was “jealous” of Spanish players after his son’s loss.  French Sports Minister David Douillet said Noah’s statements were “serious and, certainly, irresponsible.”

Players and their families also reacted violently to Noah’s statements.

“It shocks me that someone whose honesty has been questioned would allow himself to speak so negatively of Spanish athletes,” said Tony Nadal, uncle of the famous Spanish player Rafael Nadal. “It is really just ridiculous for him to come out saying that because there have been lots of rumors about him. I’m sure that ‘Rafa’ and David Ferrer have never taken anything in their lives.”

Suspicions about Spain

As often happens, Yannick Noah spoke spoke his mind, setting aside whether or not his comments were politically correct.
However, his questions on the brazen success of Spanish athletes summed up the skepticism of a fair number of observers.

Dr. Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, a specialist in performance-enhancing drugs, confirmed this.

“We can’t actually say he’s wrong on this point, because we have similar suspicions about Spanish athletes,” Mondenard said. “Today, anti-doping tests are incapable of proving who is cheating and who isn’t. Most tests happen during the competitions and thus predictable for the athletes. Tests administered unexpectedly, during training, are better indicators. Finally, history tells us that each time a country dominates a sport, there is doping behind it.

Germany, China, Italy… examples of this proliferate…

In an article published in French sports journal L’Equipe, David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed that users were ahead of the game.

“We have created a anti-doping industry that is humming,” he said. “In 2010, we had 36 positive cases out of 258,267 tests; that’s ridiculous.”

Circus Games and Health Risks

Critics say that legalization of performance enhancing drugs endorsed by Noah (and others before him) is an extremely dangerous solution. Above all else, it is a public health risk.
“Taking drugs while fully exerting yourself physically is excessively dangerous,” said Mondenard. “There were numerous deaths in the 1990s connected to the use of erythropoietin. In the long term, there are grave consequences. Your life expectancy is practically amputated.”

Legalization would make the sports world into “circus games” say critics. They say that the biggest problem with total liberalization is that all athletes would be obliged to take drugs to win, even those who currently shun this scourge on the sports world.

Moreover, allowing chemically enhancers would give a huge advantage to athletes from rich nations.  If this happened, the sports world equity so important to Yannick Noah would once again be ruined.
Where to begin in assessing Noah's comments? 

Let's be clear. Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all good players. They're just not great players. Much of the success of Spanish players has to do with their mental preparation. You can't say the Spaniards have the beautiful games or style of the French players but they've won not only Slams but Davis Cup ties as well. 

Perhaps Noah and the FFT should look inward and see why so many of their players are mentally and physically fragile and seem to value style points more than anything else. Perhaps the French should look at their internal tournament schedule and put less demand on their professional players.

The current crop of Spanish tennis players has set the bar high and the rest of the tennis world, instead of whispering in private and whining in public about doping should be looking to see why, without the assistance of the pod used by some and to now no proof of doping despite all the wishing it were true, are the ones to beat between the lines, whether they're drawn on concrete, grass or clay. Technically sound games and good mental preparation beat style, flash and expectations any day.

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