Dubai: It was a special moment for Argentine football legend Diego Maradona and the controversial former sprinter Ben Johnson. Catching up on the sidelines of the fourth international conference on Sport versus Crime being held at the Police Officer’s Club in Dubai on Monday, they hugged each other playfully and exchanged notes through a translator.
Speaking to Gulf News about their meeting after nearly two decades, Johnson said: “Though we were in different fields, we have trained together and so it was nice to meet him after a long time.”
Johnson and Maradona are the two prominent speakers at the conference. “Maradona is my good friend. We did physical and endurance training together in Argentina and Toronto. So we recalled our old days.”
Both stars candidly admitted to mistakes in their career that tarnished their images as sportsmen. “Twenty-five years ago, I made a mistake as my coach told me to do it. After losing my [Olympic] gold medal for using performance-enhancing drugs, I am here to give a message to the young generation that don’t make the mistake that I made years ago.”
Maradona, too, had to overcome drug problems. “I am not ashamed to talk about it. I won over it and I am happy I did it. My life is much better now. I would never want anyone, especially the young generation to go through what I went through during this period,” he said.
While Johnson was guided by his mother to move on in life after his low point, Maradona’s closeness to his daughter and grandson helped him surmount his problems. “I went through a dark period of my life. I travelled through a black tunnel. I recovered due to love for my daughter and grandson Benjamin.”
Johnson now trains youngsters in Toronto and counsels them on the dangers of drug abuse.
Maradona, a sports ambassador for Dubai, has been based in the emirate following a stint in coaching. “There is a lot of respect for football here and I experienced it when I went to Al Ain yesterday. Sport is something wonderful and everyone should enjoy it,” he said.
Brigadier Ahmad Khalfan Al Mansouri kicked off the conference with a talk on Dubai Police’s experience in securing sports venues and their expertise in controlling spectator violence.
Both Maradona and Johnson called for zero-tolerance towards violence at sporting venues. “I have played in so many places worldwide and seen so much of violence before and after matches. Violence is not due to mistakes in the game but due to the fault of the society and hence it is important to educate the society. Conferences as this can go a long way in combating crime and violence,” Maradona said.