22 September 2014

Koji Murofushi – Why the spirit of sport must be maintained

Koji Murofushi is a 39-year-old professional hammer thrower from Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. The winner of 20 consecutive national championships since 1995, he has been amongst the world’s elite since the 2001 IAAF World Championships, at which he won a silver medal. Koji reached the pinnacle of his career by becoming Olympic champion at Athens 2004 after initially being cheated out of the top prize by an athlete who later failed a doping test. The Japanese continued to compete at the top of his discipline, winning a world title at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, an International Fair Play Award and a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the process. Koji, a strong supporter of clean sport, joined WADA’s Athlete Committee earlier this year. He is also Director of Sport for Tokyo 2020 and is on the Japan Anti-Doping Agency (JADA)’s Athlete Committee.


If you were to look through a copy of the current World Anti-Doping Code (Code), ‘the spirit of sport’ is something which rings loud and clear, appearing in the text on more than one occasion. In fact, it is deemed so important that it appears as the underlying rationale for the Code itself. It later appears as one of the three distinct criteria through which a substance or method could appear on what is called the Prohibited List. The other two criteria – the potential to enhance performance and an actual or potential risk to the health of the athlete – are considered more frequently when questioning why something may or may not be banned.

Some anti-doping critics would say that the spirit of sport should not be a criteria at all. They say it is too vague a concept, too intangible, and in 2014 has little bearing on the practicalities of modern, commercial sport for which some people will go to unfathomable lengths to succeed. I and many others disagree with this criticism. In fact, I believe my viewpoint in favor of upholding the spirit of sport is in the majority, and that is why I work so hard to promote this. I wholeheartedly believe in the spirit of sport, and preserving what is intrinsically valuable about sport. And whilst the Code recognizes that it is something of a subjective term – and therefore does not define it – it does characterize what the term means: Ethics, fair play and honesty; Health; Excellence in performance; Character and education; Fun and joy; Teamwork; Dedication and commitment; Respect for rules and laws; Respect for self and other Participants; Courage; Community and solidarity. It is hard to disagree with any of these characterizations being anything but essential in today’s sporting world.

I grew up in a family in which sporting success ran through the veins. My father was a former Olympian and Japanese national record holder in hammer throwing. My sister throws the hammer and discus. With 49 national championships between us, my family has always competed at a high level in track and field – and this has been done through no other secret than natural talent and many hours of hard work. There are no short cuts in life; that is one piece of advice I would give to any aspiring athlete.

The pure Olympic values of clean sport were instilled in me from an early age, and I am pleased to say I have maintained them to this day; through my Asian Games successes in the 1990s, World Championship medals and through my Olympic successes. Whilst I have never been tempted to cheat my way to success, I was on the unfortunate receiving end of initially being cheated out of success at Athens 2004. I belatedly received the gold medal after the first placed athlete was found to have tampered with his sample at doping control, and was forced to hand back his medal and face a sanction. Whilst being an Olympic gold medalist was the pinnacle of my career, it did not happen the way I would have liked. The medal eventually came, but I never got that opportunity to stand on the podium and hear my national anthem played at an Olympic games. Without doubt, it was that experience that eventually led me to where I am today, a proud member of WADA’s Athlete Committee, representing the clean athletes of the world and I am able to teach young people that they can compete clean and do not need prohibited substances to feel real achievement.

During my short time on the committee, I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by current and former athletes who are passionate about honest, clean sport. It is already clear to me that what unites all the committee members – and indeed the majority of athletes in sport today – is the acceptance that we must do everything possible to create a level playing field.

What makes sport so special is its ability to pit one person’s natural ability against another’s. Any attempt to undermine this simple concept should not be recognized. I am glad that is the case when an athlete is found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation, but we still have much to do to keep our sport clean.

One of those things that we can do is continue to organize awareness programs for current athletes, and develop education and strategies for aspiring athletes and the young. It is expressly stated in the Code that anti-doping organizations (ADOs) must develop and implement education and prevention programs for athletes, including youth and athlete support personnel, aimed at promoting the spirit of sport and a “Play True” philosophy. Those who were in Sochi for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games earlier this year will have seen these programs taking shape, as will those who were in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, in Nanjing for the Youth Olympic Games and even those in Incheon this month for the Asian Games. It is particularly important to me that young athletes should experience success through real hard work, and I am glad that at each one of these events, WADA has carried out its  programs effectively and in a way that is engaging and easy-to-understand for not just current athletes but the young, too.

We are coming towards the end of yet another sporting year. Each year, as sport becomes increasingly professional, and is ever-competitive, it is pleasing to see, on the whole, the spirit of sport dominate. We have seen this at numerous sporting fixtures, not least the Youth Olympic Games at which thousands of aspiring athletes were competing at the highest level of youth sport for one reason. The love of their sport. Nanjing represented sport at its purest, and sport at its best. The athletes were there because they had a real belief in what they were doing. It was not just about the medals, it was about having a cause for doing sport. A deep rooted belief in why they were competing and how they could make a difference for themselves and others. That was heartening to see.

For those that continue to question the importance of upholding the spirit of sport, I ask you this: what message would it send out if we – those who treasure and love sport - were to neglect sporting values such as ethics, fair play and honesty in favor of allowing athletes to improve their performance by artificial means?

It would be an abdication of our responsibility to the public, and we would lose the trust and respect of the watching world. That in my eyes in not a path down which we should venture.