Sunday, August 18, 2013

The NYT Looks Back at Kelli White at PTG 2005

Today's New York Times has an essay by M. Nicole Nazzaro looking back at US sprinter Kelli White's admission of doping at the 2005 Play the Game conference. Here is how it starts:
Ten years ago this month, the American sprinter Kelli White tested positive for modafinil, a stimulant used to treat narcolepsy, after winning the 100- and 200-meter gold medals at the world track and field championships in Paris. It was the first time a track athlete from the United States had tested positive during a world or Olympic championship event.
Nazzaro explains how it was that White came to tell her story at the 2005 Play the Game Conference:
Kelli and I met again in November 2005 in a Copenhagen lecture hall, where I watched her tell her story at the Play the Game sports governance conference sponsored by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies. The executive director of the conference, Jens Sejer Andersen, had traveled to Oslo to hear Kelli speak at another conference sponsored by the World Anti-Doping Agency and was impressed. After a series of e-mails, she agreed to appear at Play the Game.

“I want to explain what it takes for the whole system to work,” she said in her prepared remarks in Copenhagen. “It not only took Conte’s help, it took my coach making me believe it was O.K. I think a lot of the time, what happens to athletes is that people make you believe that what you are doing is O.K. because everyone else is doing it.”
Andersen, reflecting last week on the success of that conference, said of White’s speech, “There is nothing to replace a firsthand eyewitness account” of doping. He added, “The potential for the encounter between Kelli and the audience was fully realized.”

From the darkest of days, White had emerged as a symbol of redemption.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of Usada, also spoke at Copenhagen. His praise for White extends far beyond the importance of her telling the truth.

“Kelli is a wonderful example, still today, that when you try to right the wrongs you’ve committed, it becomes a great tale of redemption for other athletes who come forward,” Tygart said last week, recalling White’s cooperation with the Balco investigation.

“Kelli’s contributions to antidoping,” he added, “will have a much longer-lasting and beneficial impact for athletes and sport than anything she ever did on the track.”
You can read White's full remarks at that 2005 conference here in PDF.

In the NYT Nazzaro quote PTG's Jens Sejer Andersen explaining why the fight against doping matters:
Andersen, whose conference attracts sports journalists from around the world, believes deeply in the antidoping cause.

“It would be impossible” to legalize doping in sport, he said from his home in Aarhus, Denmark. “Today, you can say yes to doping or you can say no to doping.” He said if doping were legalized, it would become “a precondition, and you no longer have a choice.”

“Sport is an expression of civilization,” he said. “Sport has a moral side, and although it’s very difficult to maintain it, it’s worthwhile. We invest in police, but we still have crime. But we don’t give up, because there are certain values we want to protect.”
Civilization has politics, of course, and with respect to doping in sport, some believe that the battle has gone too far. It is a debate I'll be engaging in greater depth on this blog in coming months.


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