I wrote the following piece in October 2002, a few months after Alain Baxter from Aviemore had his Olympic Bronze Medal taken away because a banned substance was found in his urine sample. He was later cleared of any intent to cheat, but his medal has never been returned to him and he has never been reinstated as bronze medallist of the 2002 Men’s Downhill.
First published October 2002 in Strathspey and Badenoch Herald
I hope you’ll forgive me for straying from my usual outdoors subject this week but like so many other folk in the Strathspey and Badenoch area I am both disappointed and furious at the decision by the Olympic Committee’s Court of Arbitration for Sport not to return Alain Baxter’s bronze medal to him.
By all reasonable logic the medal belongs to him. He won it fairly, and he won it with no small degree of skill and courage. He should also be awarded a gold medal for the attitude he has shown through what must have been a time of private torment. His public personna throughout the whole sorry period has been an example to other sportsmen around the world, many of whom are pampered, overpaid individuals, and I’m sure we can all name plenty of them, who like to complain about trivia.
Perhaps what has stimulated me to write this column more than anything else is not only the way Alain has been treated by the Olympic fat cats, those bureaucrats who wouldn’t know one end of a ski from the other, those legal administrators who are completely tied up in the letter of the law and who lack grace, understanding and common decency. And it’s not only the fact that on the one hand Alain has been described as honest and sincere man who had no intention of gaining a competitive edge but at the same time is not, apparently, worthy of the title of Olympic medallist. It’s not Alain’s reputation that has suffered this week, but that of the Olympic Committee, and that brings me to my point.
Two years ago I walked through the Alps with a New Zealander we had met on the trail. He told me the story of his father-in-law, a Glaswegian who had emigrated to New Zealand some time ago and had become the FIFA representative for Oceania. This gentleman had gone to FIFA to represent his area as the organisation discussed which country the next football World Cup would be held in. Such was the level of corruption and bribery that he witnessed that my friend’s father-in-law returned to New Zealand in disgust, and also somewhat concerned about his safety.
It’s a fact that modern sport is all about money. Mammon rules worldwide, from the highlands of Ethiopia where local runners see athletics as a way out of their poverty, to the fat cats of the world governing sports bodies and their burgeoning expense accounts. As a former international long jumper I can now look back at the day when my own former sport, track and field athletics, turned professional. It’s never been the same since. Rugby has gone the same way. I don’t begrudge those athletes and rugby players and footballers who dedicate themselves to a highly disciplined life a decent living, but the amount of money that goes to the top performers has become absurd. Maybe that’s why so many are prepared to cheat, to take drugs to gain unfair advantage and secure financial independence for the rest of their lives. In modern sport, hypocrisy abounds.
Drug-taking in sport is a deadly cancer that eats at the very heart of the Olympic ideals and it is right and proper that the authorities do all in their power to stamp it out, but those authorities have to be seen to be fair and considerate, especially to those who are innocent. Alain was only guilty of a silly mistake that any of us could have made and he has been treated abominably for it.
We now know that Alain Baxter is not amongst those sporting cheats, and we can be proud of a local lad who has brought nothing but honour to the sport of ski-ing. As far as I’m concerned Alain Baxter is Britain’s first Olympic medallist but much more importantly, his courage and integrity and the way he has conducted himself over these past few hellish months have made him an ideal role model for young sportsmen and women of the future.