It is a pity that Niels de Vos chose such a dodgy issue to try and prove his sport’s machismo over the rest as far as drug abuse goes. Once it became clear that Dwain Chambers had never announced or notified anyone of his retirement (which the IAAF confirmed) it was to say the least a display of worrying naiveté to start issuing statements about UK Athletics refusing to select drug cheats for international competitions at the expense of defying the world governing body.
What de Vos didn’t seem to grasp was that far more experienced minds in this area reside at the IAAF and WADA, people who understand what you can and cannot do under the law. Now Chambers is cleared to run at the weekend and de Vos, who frankly has had to eat humble pie, must pray that Craig Pickering does his stuff and wins the title. De Vos may take some comfort in the sundry boos that might greet Chambers as he goes to his blocks.
Steve Cram writing in his column in The Guardian suggests that a way out is to let Chambers run but just not select him for the World Indoors. Such a move would undoubtedly trigger further legal action but you have to ask on what grounds the move could be taken? Chambers was selected by UKA for international competitions in 2006 after he returned from his drug ban and he has not tested positive since. So what has changed? You cannot suddenly alter rules and regulations at the whim of one person.
Chambers was last tested fifteen months ago. Until this recent farce it was because someone at UKA had assumed that he had retired. UKA boobed so perhaps a lot of the bluster is to try and disguise that fact. Surely it is not beyond the wit, even of those at UKA, to devise a written procedure for the retirement of athletes?
Why does sport believe that its rules and regulations need not comply with natural justice or indeed the law? Why do our top administrators feel the necessity to prove that they have more cojones than their peers when it comes to fighting the “drug menace” that is inflicting sport?
Drug taking in sport is such a highly emotive issue that it needs objective judgements and cool heads to deal with it. At the moment these appear to be in very short supply.
With threats of legal action in the air it seems that the lessons of history are, once again, not being heeded by the hierarchy at our governing body who perhaps have decided that they are irrelevant. “What’s past is prologue,” wrote Shakespeare and it would be the end for British athletics if the Modahl saga of almost 14 years ago were to be repeated with similar dire consequences for both parties.
If Chambers had committed a major criminal offence and served his time he would have resumed his place in society and society would, in the main, consider that he had served his due punishment. But certainly not in sport and most certainly not in British sport. The Ohuruogu affair, when the athlete was tried twice for the same offence (itself an injustice), outlined quite clearly that our executive officers believe that the present punishments for doping are inadequate, that the Christian ethic of redemption has no place in athletics (or at the BOA). If that is their belief they should make their case through the agreed channels to the IAAF and to WADA instead of insidiously trying to circumvent the rules by adding their own adjuncts and byelaws as the BOA have done.
Our whole approach is succinctly summed up in a recent British Medical Association (BMA) Ethics Committee report that states: “Current anti-doping strategy is aimed at the eradication of doping in elite sports by means of all-out repression, buttressed by a war-like ideology”
In the months following the BALCO scandal, I’ve been asking people not involved with athletics what they think about our sport. It’s only a small straw poll but the vast percentage said they believed athletics was drug ridden. Yet, as we constantly reiterate, the vastly expensive testing systems reveal only an infinitesimal percentage of positive tests. When they’re told these figures they express considerable surprise. Why is that? Two reasons. Firstly, we have a media that is avaricious for drug stories (and as far as athletics is concerned they’ve been considered the only stories worth writing about in recent years) and secondly, our officials are trumpeting almost weekly their moral credentials in this area. Is it any wonder that the public have this unfortunate and deleterious impression?
What with extraordinary totalitarian ideas like tagging athletes on the drug register being seriously considered in some quarters, top athletes popping up to declare that they missed two tests and the Paul Edwards’ case quietly bubbling away on the back burner you have to say that there is a distinct impression of headless chickens. Writing in Athletics Weekly de Vos, said “Words mean nothing in the fight against drugs in sport, action is everything.” He is absolutely right so can he persuade his colleagues and himself to quieten down and stop giving the erroneous impression of a massive problem in our sport and to take action through the appropriate channels. It could be that this perception of athletics is partly to blame for our current low recruitment.
De Vos also wrote: “We must grasp the opportunity at every level of the sport – nationally and internationally – to show the cheats that we shall do all we can to test you, trace you and throw you out.” This is the emotive, warlike language to which the BMA committee refers but of the 100,000 or so athletes in Britain less than one percent are out of competition tested. The BMA Ethics Committee also stated:
“… costly anti- doping efforts in elite competitive sports concern only a small fraction of the population. From a public health perspective this is problematic since the high prevalence of uncontrolled, medically unsupervised doping practiced in amateur sports…exposes greater numbers of people to potential harm.”
What this means is that athletes outside those on the drug register can dope themselves with impunity for there is no out of competition testing for them and very little or no competition testing either.
De Vos is reported to have favoured the criminalisation of drug use in sport but what he has not grasped is that the levels of proof required in criminal proceedings far exceed those required by sporting authorities where athletes still have to prove their innocence rather then the prosecutors having to prove their guilt. What would stymie drug cases under criminal law are those magic words, beyond all reasonable doubt.
The truth is that drug testing in sport is deeply flawed; it has a quixotic air about it. Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery et al were not caught by the testing authorities but by federal investigation. WADA and the IOC live in a dream world where universal laws against drug abuse are possible. They are not and the sooner sport comes to terms with that fact the sooner we can devise a sensible method of detection and arraignment.
Is drug taking the most vital issue facing UK Athletics? No it is not. I was amazed in telephoning Jack Buckner a couple of weeks ago to find that his Competition Review was considered complete even though it had made no concrete proposals. Coaching too appears in limbo after recent events at UKA and you have to ask where the expertise in this area is going to come from. Coaching and Competition are the two main planks of any successful sport and both have suffered and are suffering in the ten years since the creation of UKA. More on this next week but it seems to me that the honeymoon is over.