Friday, 14 March 2008

Golden Moment and Moments of Madness

Those of you who followed the World Indoor Championships in Valencia on BBC Interactive will have witnessed one of those human moments in track and field epitomised by the facial expressions of Kelly Holmes after her run in the Olympic 800metres in 2004, expressions of triumph, doubt and then total joy beamed around the global village by television.

This time it was in the triple jump and featured the new World Indoor Champion, Philips Idowu. It was the last jump of the competition which he had already won with a superlative, lifetime best leap of 17.75 metres, an effort of seeming ease, rhythm and grace that reminded me so much of Jonathan Edwards’ world records in Gothenburg thirteen years previously.

Philips struggled to regain his concentration. The world indoor record of 17.83 metres was within his grasp but the enormity of what he had achieved, a first global title, had obviously infiltrated his concentration. He moved around, he put his face in his hands, desperate to regain composure and the cameras followed him. Often at moments like these athletes, shed of the anxieties of the competition, can produce wonders; not this time. Philips finally sped down the runway and produced a no jump.

But he had won gold. After an up and down career spanning 13 years, with more than a fair share of injuries, the 29 year old with the distinctive dyed red hair and headband had taken three steps to an athletic heaven. Well, not quite, for real heaven, I suppose, comes in just a few months time in Beijing.

It is eight years now since Britain won an individual global gold in the men’s events (also in the triple jump with Jonathan Edwards) and, in all honesty, Philips is our only male hope for a golden moment in the Chinese capital. Wisely though, in after competition interviews, he played it cool about his prospects, for he and his coach John Herbert carry enough experience between them to know of the vagaries of Olympic competition.

And Olsson awaits. The Swedish Olympic champion, also with a career severely blighted with injuries, will be anxious to defend the title he won in Athens. His best, that world indoor record, is now just eight centimetres ahead of Philips. It will be a great battle. Interesting to note too that it is twelve years since anyone (American Kenny Harrison) jumped over 18 metres. Surely another leap of that magnitude is overdue.

Moments of Madness

That great, Anglo-Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift would surely, if he had been born into this modern age, be running a Blog to entertain us all. And should he have been interested in sport what a wonderful time he would have been having with the recent machinations and contradictions surrounding drug testing and its punishments.

Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the latest to give forth on the clearly pernicious British Olympic Association (BOA) by-law that bans British drug miscreants from ever competing or indeed coaching at an Olympic Games.

His spokesman, Emmanuel Moreau, said: “We confirm that the president would be supportive of the lifetime ban of the BOA.”

Rogge, however, finds himself in direct contradiction with the former President of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), Dick Pound who had earlier reiterated his belief that sprinter Dwain Chambers should go to court to challenge the ban which, in Pound’s view, contravenes the WADA code (to which the British government and the BOA are signatories) which specifies a two year ban for a first-time offence.

At the present time I can find no comment from the new WADA president John Fahey on either the BOA by-law or the move by the European athletics promoters to retrospectively ban for all time drug miscreants from their meetings thus also contravening WADA rules and, probably, European commercial law concerning restraint of trade.

Swift would have loved all this as sport and in particular the IOC and WADA and international governing bodies tie themselves in knots in trying to fulfil their impossible dream of all countries, governments and sporting associations working in harmony implementing WADA laws.

The problem is that individual sports bodies and associations who do not like certain aspects of the laws (mostly finding the punishments too lenient) feel free to add by-laws to please themselves. They feel free because WADA has no direct jurisdiction over them and the IOC is happy to let any of its 205 organisations set whatever punishments they like with regard to participation in the Olympics. And when you get the two men who were instrumental in setting up WADA, Rogge and Pound, at loggerheads then you have to ask what chance the rest of sport stands in harmonising. One would relish their appearing as opposing witnesses in any future action that might be brought.

Meanwhile Colin Moynihan, Chairman of the BOA, has moved to join the ranks of those who are macho-posturizing over Chambers. You would think, listening to him, that sport faces some Armageddon if Dwain is not banished from its Olympian shores, becomes as Orwell put it “abolished, a non person”. In Churchillian tones Moynihan vows that the new World Indoor silver medallist will not reach China, “"We will pay whatever is necessary,” he trumpeted, “to have top lawyers represent us and put the strongest case in support of that ban.”

The question is, has he the right to spend public money in such a cavalier fashion especially when recent polls suggest that only a third of the public favour lifetime bans, the majority finding them I suspect, somewhat repugnant, repressive and unduly un-Christian. Rogge, instead of congratulating the BOA on its stance should ask himself why the other 204 global Olympic associations have elected not to have such banishments for their sportsmen and women.

It really is faintly ridiculous when those in authority lose their faculties of discernment, as Moynihan and others have done. It is more serious, however, when almost all the media, written and electronic follow suit and do not challenge the judgemental pronouncements being made. Writers and broadcasters whom I respect seem to have lost all sense of natural justice in this ongoing saga, seem to have joined the ranks of those revelling in the zealotry that vilifies Dwain Chambers, a man, after all, who confessed his sporting crime and was duly punished for it. I have espied no cool media analysis of the can of worms opened by Niels de Vos of UKA some weeks ago and certainly have read no call for WADA rules to prevail. One expects the tabloids to behave in the way that they have but I expected the broadsheets, radio and television to at least have reasonable debate on the issues involved.

The similarity with the witch hunts and trials of Salem three centuries ago unfortunately grows. The only apparent difference is that, tragically, as we now know, there were no witches whereas today there are clearly doping miscreants. There is, however, great similarity between the puritan ethics that fired the good people of Massachusetts to do what they did and of those who quixotically fight to eradicate doping in sport today by whatever means they deem necessary, injust or no.

And news comes through, as I write, of further madness. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)is secretly assessing the Medicare records of athletes, without their consent, surely in direct contravention of their human rights.

“Justice or injustice of the cause,” said Samuel Johnson “[should] be decided by a judge.” He was and is right. As drug testing spins out of control it must be challenged both politically and legally. In both spheres the actions of the BOA, the European promoters and far across the world of the Australian testers must be challenged. This issue is about much more than Dwain Chambers; it is about natural justice, human rights and above all about teaching sport that it is not above the law.

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