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Sport: Brussels' Achilles Heel

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Nabeelah Shabbir


As an international UNESCO convention on doping takes place in Paris, Pietro Mennea, Italian former Olympic champion, discusses the 'crime'

A career spanning five Olympic games, a world record of 200 metres (held for 17 years), three university qualifications - plus a stint as MEP from 1999 to 2004. Pietro Mennea, 54, does not seem to have the time to sit back and reflect on the glory of the past: he is also a lawyer and sports law professor, not forgetting founder of an organisation which, amongst other things, deals with stopping doping in sport. Mennea is a published author on the subject.

What is the relationship between sport and the monitoring bodies at the moment?

The framework is not very positive; there's a lot of confusion. We need to harmonise anti-doping rules, but also start prosecution measures. I tried to promote the issue during my time as an MEP in Brussels, but it was all in vain.

Is there any pressure from the sponsors?

They certainly play an important card. The cost-effectiveness that they search for depends on media support, which builds up around the sporting event. But it also depends on the athletes' good performance. Naturally, the two are not always possible. Doping makes it happen.

There is a lot of hypocrisy surrounding doping. People choose to turn the other cheek. Can a common international standard alter this situation?

Of course, if there is a clear regulation. In 2000, I was the rapporteur for discussions on the topic as part of the 'Helsinki Report on Sport'. We achieved a declaration on sport and created a European agency against the fight against doping.

In Helsinki we also achieved an amendment laying out a law for a modern treaty. Seven years ago at the Nice conventions, the ministers didn't have to do much more than introduce this law. It could have showered future initiatives for anti-doping with advantages. But nothing came of it. Today we still don't have a sports law in the unratified consitution. It's like the 'spoilt child' of the European Union.

What should be done in collaboration with the European Union?

I gave them a direction seven years ago. It's simple. Remove the anti-doping responsibility from sports organisms such as the International Olympic Committee. We need to introduce a criminal law. Introducing this measure would mean having an equal law in 27 countries, and creating the necessary external bodies to control doping. In short, we need to create a structure which is independent from sport and can halt the increase in doping. It's not just a plague in sport - it's a social problem.

Is there a risk of an increase in substance use what with the enlargement of Eastern Europe, where doping and local mafia are closely related?

Certainly. At the moment, the steroids business permits the mafias to profit more substantially than the achievements for trade than other drugs. It's not just a problem in sport, it's a crime. Today, doping is more used by athletes who aren't getting anywhere despite their best efforts. They're the frustrated athletes who want to feel stronger or visibly see themselves getting bigger, and they're the victims of an incoherent social context.

How was the situation when you were a sprinter?

Doping was 'done' back then too. It originated in the Eastern countries. I competed in five Olympic games because I had practised a manner of sport which was constant and correct. If I hadn't kept on the straight and narrow, I doubt I would have lasted so long. Doping doesn't may create grand results on one level, but it certainly doesn't bring longevity to an athlete's career.

Isolated Italian position

Paris: From February 5 - 7, 18 governments are taking part in the International Convention against Doping in Sport, hosted by UNESCO. 'On an international level. Pietro Mennea and Italy's position stand isolated,' explains Valery Genniges, a close collaborator of the French Sports Minister, Jean-François Lamour.

'For us, it is unusual to see an athlete guilty of doping sentenced to prison. Instead, we suggest prosecuting the regulation of trafficked doping substances.' The UNESCO Convention aims to create a World Anti-Doping Agency, petitioned by governments who formally accept taking action in eliminating doping in internation sport. 'It represents a great step forward,' says Genniges. A.F.

Translated from Mennea: «Norme penali contro il doping. Ma l'Ue si oppose»