Sunday, 21 October 2007

Justice and Injustice

Justice …

The remorseful wailings of Marion Jones following her disclosure that she was heavily into performance-enhancing drugs will cut little ice with the sport at large. Not only is her career in ruins but her life also. The winner of five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics had, since those achievements, stoutly denied taking steroids and she committed perjury in 2003 by continuing to do so to federal agents. It is a crime that could well see her end up in jail when she comes to be sentenced next January.

Athletically this means that the top eleven women’s 100 metre performances of all time were almost certainly chemically assisted (the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, world record holder, was strongly reputed to be on steroids). The irony is, as IAAF President Diack noted, that Jones would probably have won those medals on natural ability alone.

In 2000 Jones married shot putter C J Hunter who tested positive for drugs; she then partnered Tim Montgomery before he admitted in 2004 to taking human growth hormone. Both Montgomery and Jones publicly travelled to Montreal to consult with Charlie Francis, the notorious coach to Ben Johnson. Montgomery was later indicted for money laundering and is awaiting sentence. Jones was coached by Jamaican Trevor Graham eleven of whose athletes have tested positive for drugs. She was also named by Victor Conte, indicted owner of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), who escaped jail by spilling the beans on athletes whom he had supplied with drugs. She later moved to be coached by Steve Riddick, a number of whose athletes had also tested positive. Riddick was indicted and found guilty along with Montgomery for their fraudulent activities.

At long last justice has caught up with this clique of undesirables who have brought shame upon the sport of athletics. As for Jones she is either extremely devious or extremely gullible.
So, the Sydney gold medal in the 100 metres will now be awarded to Greek sprinter, Ekaterini Thanou who came second? Well, possibly not. Thanou and fellow Greek sprinter, Konstadinos Kederis were, in 2004, before the Athens Olympics, involved in an incident worthy of a Feydeau farce when in scurrying around the Greek capital on a motor cycle, possibly to avoid drug tests, they crashed, received injuries that put them out of the Games. Both were banned for two years by admitting to avoiding three tests (their avoidance tactics had become legendary) and they face perjury charges regarding their accident. Kederis, it will be remembered, deprived Darren Campbell of a gold medal in Sydney in 2000. Their coach Christos Tzekos was banned for life.

The cheats are caught, rejoice, rejoice. Well not quite. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) with its 25 million dollar budget and the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) with its 13 million dollar budget both failed to nail Jones through much vaunted testing procedures and scientific research. They had to rely on federal investigators to force an admission in court. Indeed Jones was found positive for the banned substance Erythropoietin (EPO) in 2006 but her B sample did not confirm the finding and she was cleared. In the cases of Thanou and Kederis both admitted to missing tests but had never tested positive.

3279 out-of-competition tests in all sports were carried out by WADA in 2006, providing just 1.74% of adverse findings. USADA similarly carried out 8421 tests that year, resulting in 0.36%.positives. In athletics the IAAF recently announced that 1132 tests were carried out at the Osaka world championships resulting in 0% of positive findings and in the past twelve months (July 2006 to June 2007) UK Athletics have announced a total of 650 tests also resulting in 0% positives.

Such statistics indicate one of two conclusions: either the test statistics show a miniscule level of drug misuse and questions have to be asked of those who continually bang the drum about the massive drug menace in sport or the testing procedures are not working and cheats like Jones, Thanou and Kederis are getting away with it. Either way serious questions about value for money should (but wont) be tendered in November at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Madrid

… and Injustice

Paul Edwards, former international shot putter, must be the only athlete in the world to have his drugs case debated in parliament, not once but twice.

On the first occasion the matter was raised in 2002 by Edwards’ then MP Andrew Hunter. The MP, a former Minister at the Northern Ireland office, who would be well versed about bigotry and obfuscation on a grand scale, was scathing in his criticism of the sports authorities. He found the stonewalling by the then UK Sports Director of Anti-Doping, Michelle Verroken highly frustrating and suspicious. “It’s my first experience of athletics’ administration,” he told me five years ago, “and I find it appalling.” The reply by the then Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, was full of self-congratulatory guff about testing in Britain and he suggested to Hunter the various options that were open to Edwards to pursue his case.

None of them bore fruit so this month, Maria Miller, Edwards’ new MP, again raised the matter in the House. Appalled by the injustice, she had taken up Edwards’ cause and its lack of progress over the past five years. She had had correspondence with Caborn before he left his post in the Brown reshuffle. What resulted from his advice was a highly predictable bout of buck passing by UKA, the IAAF, WADA and the Court of Sports Arbitration (CSA). Gerry Sutcliffe, the new Sports Minister, promised to help Miller through the mire of bureaucracy so that the case could be heard by the CSA but nobody is holding their breath.

This is a case that is not only disturbing for Edwards but has much wider implications for sport in this country and around the world; it concerns the efficacy of drug testing and it raises questions as to whether UK Sport and the London IOC accredited laboratory, that will be in the forefront of drug testing at the 2012 Olympics, attempted a cover-up in order to protect its integrity.

These are serious allegations but some believe they have credence because in another case, that of athlete Mark Hylton in 2000, the laboratory refused to accept criticism of its procedures by an eminent authority even though such criticisms were accepted by the IAAF and by the then UK Sport Chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, who was quoted as saying, “What we will be looking for is reassurance that the lapses will not be repeated. If the situation arose where there was a lack of confidence [in the laboratory] then we can send our samples abroad."

In 1994 Edwards tested positive for an anabolic steroid and was flown back in public disgrace from the Commonwealth Games in Canada, along with Diane Modahl (who subsequently cleared her name at the expense of personal bankruptcy). Edwards lost on appeal and was given a 4 year ban. From that moment he has suffered from the age old adage of “once a cheat, always a cheat.”

He was out-of-competition tested in June, 1997 and from that very moment there have been doubts and suspicions about the integrity of this particular test. Edwards was duly accused of taking a prohibited substance and was, because it was a “second offence”, banned in 1998 from the sport for life. He appealed and lost.

For the next eight years he and his team of advisers, including MPs and scientists, have fought to uncover evidence that they believed would clear his name. They met with years of obfuscatory stonewalling of almost unbelievable proportions from UK Sport and the Drugs Control Centre (DCC), both claiming immunity from disclosure under the Data Protection Act. Their problem was that the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) didn’t agree with them. UK Sport successfully stonewalled, despite being formally warned by the DPC, until in December, 2003 the laboratory doors were suddenly flung open and Simon Davis, who has a Ph.D. in mass spectrometry and is a highly respected expert in sporting drug cases, was allowed in and found 600 pages of evidence that had not only been withheld from Edwards but crucially also from the disciplinary and appeal panels that heard the case. Further evidence, it transpires, is still being withheld.

What he found convinced many people that there had been a serious miscarriage of justice. Not only that but they also raised the possibility in people’s minds that the prolonged stonewalling was undertaken so that when, inevitably, the evidence had to be produced, the time for Edwards’ to appeal would have elapsed. He was in Catch 22. He had no new appeal until he saw the evidence; he wasn’t allowed the evidence until it was too late to appeal.

Doubts surrounded this whole process from the moment that Edwards gave his sample, to its journey to the laboratory and to it being tested at the Drugs Control Centre. These could be summarised as follows:

1. The length of the test was recorded as taking 3 minutes. Any Independent Sampling Officer (ISO) would tell you that to carry out all the correct procedures is impossible in that time.
2. The ISO did not follow set procedures laid down by UK Sport. Without the pH being recorded there is no way of knowing if the sample degraded over the weekend – in the same way that Modahl’s did under exactly the same circumstances.
3. Many doubts surround the transportation of the sample from the ISO to the laboratory and the necessary paperwork was withheld from Edwards’ team by DHL, the transporter, on apparent instructions from Verroken (who mysteriously left UK Sport under an unspecified cloud almost to the day that Davis was allowed entry to the laboratory). The transportation took 3 days over a hot June weekend so the possibility of some sample degradation is high.
4. Davis highlights gross errors in the calculation of Edwards’s testosterone/epitestosterone (T/ET) ratio.
5. The B sample container was damaged and had to be opened with a hacksaw.
6. A component was missing from the methods of calibration thus making them useless.
7. There was contamination of the water (which should be pure) used to test levels of T/ET.
8. Edwards produced 170ml of urine; the amount required for the laboratory to carry out, under its own protocol, the 51 analyses it says it did, was 200ml.
9. In a direct infringement of the then IOC Medical Code (now the WADA Code) Edwards’s A and B samples were checked by the same person in the laboratory.

Davis’s report has been read by six independent eminent scientists all of whom unreservedly support his findings. Any one of the above nine reasons alone would clear Edwards. All nine deliver a devastating critique of drug testing in this country. Gerry Sutcliffe said that Edwards’s case had been reviewed in 2002, 2004 and 2005; what he neglected to say was that those reviews had been carried out internally by the laboratory and UK Sport.

What is needed is the evidence to urgently go before the Court of Sports Arbitration (which should demand the release of evidence still being withheld) followed by an independent enquiry into this whole affair. In a criminal or civil court case the withholding of evidence by the prosecution would, irrespective of its validity, result in a case being thrown out. Paul Edwards’s human rights have been shamefully and mightily abused in the name of the greater good of drug testing. That is an Orwellian concept that should have no place in our society, let alone sport.

1 comment:

Mike Agostini said...

Drugs make headlines that continue to damage the sport more than anything else. As Oxford Professor of Ethics, Julian Savulescu, said some time ago, the only way to get rid of this is to legalize the drugs, then maybe the overemphasis will cease and the competition will take precedence as it should.
I am not in favour of drugs being used but, like money previously, they are an ingrained part of the scence, with some and maybe many.