Math is true. It is immutable. 2+2=4 and forever will.
Math is timeless. It is identical today as it was in the past; and it will be identical into the future.
Math is testable and repeatable. And, in this, we find understanding, comprehension and comfort. Our understanding and comprehension also extends to some of the less rigid aspects of math. As stated above 2+2=4. This is rigid. However, while also true, saying a three-digit number is greater than a 2-digit number is a general statement accepted as true. We still find comfort here, because we are provided with a nice, neat little package of data.
We accept mathematical terms for what they mean and what they define. We trust it.
Where we run into problems is when we mistake probability for fact. Or, more precisely, when we mistake probability for lack of fact. Take the cliché of a room full of law students and the teacher saying, “Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won’t be here next year.” While not a mathematical fact, the probability of this being true is based on historical statistics which render it true. While the law students may not find comfort in this prediction, they would find it difficult to argue against its accuracy.
The same can be said about cheating in Sport. We know, for a fact, that cheating occurs. We also know, for a fact, that the percentage of athletes who cheat is greater than the percentage which gets caught through OOC and IC doping tests. While we may not find comfort in these facts, we do find enough comfort to not dispute these facts.
Where things start to get murky is at the intersection of science (the testing), culture (the acceptance of doping and athletes who dope by each society), and morality (each athlete’s resistance to the temptation to cheat, or lack thereof). When we layer nationalism on top of this – “the pesky Russians are cheaters, but athletes from MY country would never cheat” – then we are set up for an emotionally-fueled argument which lacks reason on both ends of the pendulum swing.
On one end, we have those who say, “All elite athletes cheat.” On the other end, we have those who say, “Unless an athlete fails an anti-doping test, then he/she is clean.” While the concept of cheating is necessarily black-and-white – you either cheat or you don’t – neither of these stances is valid and neither holds any water. Statistically speaking, we know, for a fact, that stating an athlete is clean and should be believed if he/she has not failed a test, is an untenable position to take. With it being largely accepted that up to two-thirds of all athletes cheat, the pool of clean athletes is indeed very small. However, we do not know for a fact that all athletes are doping. The statistics do not support this, either. If you had to choose one end of the spectrum or the other to embrace, it would unfortunately have to be the “all athletes dope” end. The reason is because, statistically, the only thing we know for a fact is that all athletes being clean is false.
I’ve said it many times – patterns are proof. When we see performances and athletic feats which cause our jaws to drop and our eyebrows to raise, these knee jerk reactions come from deep inside each of us. Rather than skepticism or cynicism, these reactions are borne out of an innate sense each of us has to discern fact from fiction. Reality from fairytale. Yet, there is a population which demands testable and verifiable evidence as the only proof an athlete has transgressed. Statistics do not support this type of rigid stance. Because the anti-doping system is fraught with failure points through which we could drive tanks. So, if you are relying on an indefensible system which cannot provide ironclad proof of innocence or cheating, then you believe the anti-doping system is a mathematical problem like 2+2=4. But, we know for a fact that it is not. Not even close.
We know that more athletes cheat than get caught. And, the margin between those cheating and those getting caught is not a little, but a lot. The discrepancy is in orders of magnitude.
There is mathematical truth. There is mathematical accuracy based on statistical evidence – even in the absence of hard evidence (like a failed doping test). Given what we have historically seen across Sport – the cheating, the corruption, the buried tests, the silent bans, the physical transformations, the warping of facial features, the lies and deceit – there is literally no reason at all to think athletes today are training and competing any more cleanly than they ever have.
Statistically speaking, of course. Because in knowing the anti-doping system is broken beyond repair, we also know we will never close that monumental gap between the sheer volume of cheaters and the paltry few who are actually caught.