In this column, Stuart Weir writes about the reception that Justin Gatlin was given at the World Championships. I have spent three visits with BBC radio speaking about the situation. My thoughts have always been that booing in a crowd, is partly due to anonymity and also to clear frustration about something in modern life. Doping and anti-doping are complicated issues where people you respect break the rules.
Stuart Weir writes that, in the end, we should not lower ourselves or, our sport to such levels.
Blot on the landscape!, by Stuart Weir
The IAAF World Championship got off to a brilliant start. Firstly there was a full stadium – in total contrast to Beijing 2015 and Moscow 2013. The action was amazing. The scriptwriter came up with Mo Farah winning the first gold medal of the championships for the host country and in his toughest race in recent memory.
When the big screen showed Usain Bolt warming up, it was enough to send the crowd into ecstasy. When Bolt did his first run out of his blocks he had to stop and acknowledge the cheers. Then there were the three heats of the women’s 1500 – all different but all riveting, with their combination of speed and intrigue. All four GB athletes progressed but two of them had to run PBs to do so.
And all this coming after the most successful IPC Disability Athletics World Championships ever, with an unheard of over a quarter of a million spectators watching, gave me so much reason to be proud of my country. Well almost.
I was deeply disappointed and embarrassed by the incessant booing of Justin Gatlin, to the extent that the stadium announcer was heard to remark that it was not Pantomine season.(If you are unfamiliar with British pantomime – you cheer the hero and boo the villain!) I totally understand the view that convicted drug-cheats should not be allowed to compete in major championships. I understand some people’s desire to express that with a reaction to the announcement of an athlete’s name. But that is different from incessant booing of him from blocks to finish, which I found quite unacceptable.
However Justin Gatlin meets the criteria of the IAAF and is allowed to compete. I felt that the reaction on the opening night was discourtesy and frankly un-British. For me it was a blot on a wonderful landscape of superb entertainment and outstanding performance. Of course the home crowd wants British medals, of course we are allowed to be biased! Of course we have a great tradition of peaceful protest in our great country. But courtesy to visitors and respect for all is also a fundamental British value.
Whether you think Gatlin should be running or not, he is and he should be accorded the same respect as any athlete. If you want someone other than Gatlin to win, great, cheer you favorite to the rafters but please don’t disrespect others. Last night I was embarrassed and felt that my country let itself down.