Pickering anniversary offers reminders on doping

It is 25 years ago this month since Ron Pickering, the former national athletics coach and respected BBC commentator, died at the age of 60.

Ron Pickering: wise words from 25 years ago seem relevant today
Ron Pickering: wise words from 25 years ago seem especially relevant today

Having coached Lynn Davies to Olympic long jump gold in 1964, Pickering was snapped up by the BBC for his inside knowledge of the sport. Pickering used his BBC position as a platform to highlight many issues, particularly drug use and corruption, including one famous interview on Sportsnight with Coleman in 1976, ahead of the Montreal Olympics, in which he accused the eastern bloc, and the Soviet Union in particular, of systemic doping and drug test cover-ups. Sound familiar?

Pickering’s son, Shaun, who himself now does broadcast sports commentary and like his father is a staunch supporter of the British Athletics Writers’ Association, marked the anniversary by reminding friends of an extract from the seminal sports investigation book, The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics by Vyv Simpson and Andrew Jennings.

It is worth another read today:

We wrote in our introduction to this book of our difficulties in finding officials and administrators who were prepared to go on the record and tell the truth in public about all the things wrong with modern sport. One of the few who did not lack the courage to speak out was the eminent former British Olympic coach, teacher and broadcaster Ron Pickering, who died suddenly in 1991.

‘I think there’s the gravest danger that sport is on a slippery slope from which there may not be any return,’ Ron told us shortly before his death. ‘A lot of us feel that in the last decade or so it’s been violated by greed, by drugs, by hypocrisy, by cant and by political intrusion. And by bad leadership.

‘Sport is the only human institution that is based on idealism. It’s survived thirty-three centuries because of that. If it were simply competition it wouldn’t have lasted thirty-three weeks. Anything that is not based on ethics cannot be called sport. If it’s a corrupt environment, we can’t invite our children into it.

‘We must be the jealous guardians of that ideal if we’re going to bring them into it and every time we see anyone breaking that ethic we’ve got to jump on them. Otherwise we lose the precious jewel that we hand on to the next generation. And I don’t think that my generation has been particularly good at looking after it.’

As Shaun Pickering points out, his father was a driving force behind the formation of Haringey AC, one of this country’s most successful clubs, and where Sebastian Coe competed in the latter stages of his own track career.

“Seb Coe himself quoted from the above in his acceptance speech for the IAAF Presidency,” Shaun Pickering said, “and so I hope he realises that his old Club President is looking down on him expecting him to make good decisions for a sport which we hold dear.”

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