Thursday, 6 March 2008

How to Lose a War

Bad laws are the worst of tyranny – Edmund Burke

Many will remember Susan Chepkemei, if not from the streets of London, where she ran third in 2006, then from the wonderful 2004 ING New York marathon when she battled to the finish with Paula Radcliffe, who won.

Last summer the 32 year old Kenyan, who was pregnant, was rushed into a Nairobi hospital where she was treated for pneumonia. Suffering from breathing difficulties the doctors administered salbutamol to aid her. It is not recorded whether she was conscious at the time. In September she tested positive for the salbutamol which is a World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) banned substance.

In February Athletics Kenya magnanimously handed her a one year ban, accepting her mitigating circumstances.

Now I cannot imagine that anyone, other than the most fundamental apologists (of which there are many) for the strict liability clause in dope testing rules, would in any way defend or even start to understand this action taken in the so called War on Doping. The IAAF, so swift to go to arbitration if they feel a sentence is too lenient, has never appealed a sentence for being too harsh and so it is in this case. It has been silent. Chepkemei is now officially a drug cheat.

If the many that have been over vocal about the Chambers affair are true to their principles then Chepkemei will not grace the London Marathon again. And even if she were allowed to run those who were urging public demonstrations against Chambers must surely once more try to rally rabble rousers to boo and hiss along the route. And if he were to stage a 10,000 metres in his prestigious Ivo Van Damme meeting Wilfred Meert would surely decline to invite her. He like many others, has suffered a conversion on the road from BALCO

I heard him on my car radio some days ago talking on BBC Radio 5 Live about the legal threat posed by Christy Gaines suing the Euromeetings Group of 54 promoters who have taken a unilateral and retrospective decision not to invite former drug cheats to their meetings. We’re okay, Wilfred seemed to saying, “because these are invitational meetings and we can invite or not invite who we like.”

Not quite. The six Golden League meetings are part of the IAAF/TDK programme where one million dollars is at stake for those who win all six meetings. Any legal action by any former banned athlete (who could afford it) taken against their prohibition from the Golden League would surely have to incorporate the IAAF as well. The promoters seem to have forgotten, or have never heard of, the Meca-Medina/Malcen case that went before the European Court of Justice. It determined that sporting cases (including doping cases) do fall within the scope of Article 81 of the European Community Treaty.

Promoters and managers, Niels de Vos and Dame Tanni (I want an eight year ban) Grey Thompson should note carefully that Dick Pound, former head of WADA and a lawyer has, as I write, reiterated to BBC Sport his belief that the British Olympic Association bye law banning drug miscreants for life from the Olympics contravenes WADA legislation. “As a matter of law,” Pound said, “I think the BOA would be on shaky ground. The BOA is a signatory to Wada's code - those are the rules that govern doping infractions - and the sanction for a first offence is a two-year suspension.
"Chambers has served his ban and I think, depending on your view of criminal justice, if you serve the penalty that was deemed appropriate - for whatever the offence was - you are entitled to be reintegrated into society.”

The European promoters could be looked upon as an organised cabal promoting restraint of trade with the express purpose of subverting the laws of WADA and in athletics’ case, the IAAF.

Much of this is based on a visceral feeling among many in authority that, despite global and national tests showing a 99% negative return, most elite athletes are, or want to be, on performance enhancing drugs. It is a belief, held but rarely uttered, that goes back a long way.

On a windy summer’s evening in 1990 at the Gateshead International Stadium Dr Martin Lucking, then a prominent figure in UK drug testing, was supervising procedures in an international match with Canada and East Germany. A group of athletes were waiting to be tested. The delay was causing irritation, complaint and friction. Lucking (who was later to chair the panel that erroneously found Diane Modahl guilty) suddenly snapped, whirled round and pointing a finger in turn at each of the athletes present, shouted each time: “I think you’re on drugs and I think you’re on drugs, until you’ve proved otherwise.”

This was an extraordinary incident that indicated the suspicion by sporting administrators of universal guilt. It is clearly still prevalent. They believe it with the religious conviction of a fundamentalist, unwittingly confirming what the gullible Ben Johnson and Dwain Chambers and others were told by their mentors.

And if you are solemnly looked in the eye and told that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on testing is to act as a deterrent then you know that sport and in particular athletics has completely lost its way on this important issue and that through its own laws as well as the subverting of them and, in particular, through the Chepkemei case, it is slowly bringing itself into disrepute.

Good times at the NIA

On to more congenial affairs. In recent years when I have visited meetings of all grades around the country I’ve usually done it with a personal interest in just one athlete. The rest of the competition normally goes by in some sort of a blur unless there is an athlete of particular standing taking part. When I went to Birmingham’s NIA for the England age group championships ten days or so ago I expected to find myself in a similar position. That I didn’t was down to two reasons.

The first was that the competition was intense and exciting and belied the theory that our relative lack of international success is because of a dearth of talent – talent was present at the NIA in droves. Carefully nurtured, some of those present will grace future British teams with considerable distinction. Secondly, it was great to meet up again with some former top stars who were now back in the sport successfully coaching young talent. After such an invigorating weekend one could easily be led into thinking that the future of our sport and in particular success in 2012 was pretty well assured.

The operative phrase though is “carefully nurtured”, which conveniently leads us to the coaching scheme still trying hard to survive under burdensome coach education, which has for almost a decade slowly choked coaching to death. Coach education has been an unmitigated disaster. Its main aim seems to have been to satisfy the insatiable Sport England demand for more and more coaches with little or no thought as to the quality being produced; witness Sport England’s frankly ludicrous demand for 2000 more Level 1 coaches between 2007 and 2009.

What has been sadly neglected is coach development. Where is pro-active encouragement of coaches to increase their knowledge? Where has UKA published the latest track and field research? After the sad demise of the highly acclaimed AAA/BAAB coaching booklets (sold around the world) where are the replacement booklets and DVDs? Why doesn’t UKA attempt to keep in regular contact with its Level 3 and Level 4 coaches using the internet? Some months ago a semi-autonomous Coaches Guild, that would have incorporated all of the above, was mooted to top management at UKA. Their response, as reported to me, was “we don’t want to fund a trade union.”

But there was hope at the NIA. In the warm-up area were former international athletes Geoff Capes, Clarence Callender, Mike McFarlane, Tony Jarrett, Lloyd Cowan and Lorna Boothe (as well as a number of other very well qualified coaches) all bringing their knowledge and experience to our most promising young stars. It was great to meet up again, however transitorily. Sprinting, as you can see, is well catered for in coaching terms; now the trick for whoever will be driving coaching forward in the coming years, will be to muster such talent in all the other events.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thank you for these words of moderating reason! The shrill sanctimonious braying of the media and some members of athletics officaldom - not to mention the public - is indeed starting to sound like fundamentalist rhetoric. Dwain Chambers has paid the penalty for his infraction, and now he should be allowed to pick up whatever's left of his career. He has already shown that even clean, he is a major talent whose achievements, had he never taken drugs, would likely have been quite close to what they were with drugs. It's a shame we'll never exactly know what he could have done clean.