Monday, 31 March 2008

Telling it how it isn't

The philosopher and secularist Bertrand Russell once gave a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question (as philosophers do). The question was: what will you say if you die and are confronted by your Maker? His response was:”I should say, oh God, you did not give us enough evidence.”

I’ll remember his reply in case I arrive at the Pearly Gates to be met by the former President of the European AA and anti-drugs campaigner, Sir Arthur Gold to be accused of being soft on drugs and then handed irrefutable proof of widespread doping in sport. But Arthur, I would say, over a glass of our favourite malt, why aren’t these figures available down below?

The IAAF drug testing figures for 2007 indicate the problem. They tell us the number of tests carried out (3277), they tell us the number of positives (10) and they even name the athletes tested. What they don’t tell us is what the figures really mean.

You will have worked out that the percentage of positives of those tested is 0.3%. The IAAF says that the results of a number of cases are still pending so that the number of positives may well rise. But even if there were 100 positives they would only comprise 3% of the total. In Britain, in 2006-07, 7143 tests were carried out in all sports; 27 proved positive - 0.38% of the total.

What we do not get from the various bodies are their thoughts on what their testing figures indicate. They indicate, in actuality, one of two things: either the level of doping in athletics (and sport) is miniscule or the much vaunted testing programmes aren’t working. Either way the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has a problem in justifying the hundreds of millions of dollars globally being spent on testing in sport.

We’ve been here before, of course, and undoubtedly will be back again but it is the backdrop to some of the latest pronouncements on the subject. “It has been a long time since Dwain [I love the familiarity] was caught and there has been no effort by him to actually share information…there has not been a willingness to point fingers at those who helped him or to be honest about the drugs he was on.” The speaker is John Scott of UK Sport. Is this the same UK Sport that swiftly jumped on the bandwagon of the demonisation of Chambers through its CEO Liz Nichol? She made public a letter she had sent to UK Athletics, reminding them not to support its future World Indoor silver medallist. I’m afraid so. Some of you will recall that similar appeals were made to the accused in the witchcraft trials of Salem with one notable exception: the appeals in Salem came with an offer of redemption as were, incidentally, similar entreaties in the McCarthy political witch hunts of the 1950’s. Scott also urged athletes to grass on those they thought were into doping which may give an indication of establishment uncertainty about the efficacy of the drug testing programmes. It must rankle that Marion Jones was not caught cheating by USADA testing but by the fact that she committed perjury.

British sport and in particular UK Athletics (UKA) has come out of the last couple of months looking very silly indeed. Lamine Diack, the President of the IAAF, said as much in an interview he gave to the Observer this last weekend. He indicated that the actions of UKA’s Niels de Vos and others in attempting to stop Chambers running in the UK Indoor Championships and qualifying for Valencia were always doomed to failure because Chambers had served his time and had indeed previously been selected by UK Athletics, in 2006, after his two year ban was over.

Perhaps, most importantly of all for British athletics, was Diack’s anger that UKA's crass and unlawful stance on Chambers took away the limelight from other athletes in the British team. “The one who came back from suspension became the star,” Diack said. “Why was there all this fuss on Dwain Chambers?”

The UK Athletics board needs to seriously consider this question and its answer. It is because Niels de Vos lit the fire that is still, weeks later, still smouldering. The fact that those in the offices in Solihull clearly did not anticipate the consequences of the actions they were to undertake indicates an alarming lack of media savvy in the heart of the organisation.

Thirteen – unlucky for some

I don’t know if anyone in Team Chambers has a sight of this Blog but they should pass on the information that if history is anything to go by he should avoid Castleford and Rugby League like the plague.

Two well known British international athletes (also with no previous footballing experience) have, some time in the past, made such a move and neither lasted very long in their new sport.

In 1953 Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, Olympic bronze medallist (1952) and winner of fourteen AAA sprint titles decided that a very generous financial offer from Leigh was one he could not refuse. He had just one extremely petrifying game, was tackled, injured and taken off. In 1961 a somewhat more robust figure tried his hand at 13-aside rugby with Oldham. This was the European Shot Put champion Arthur Rowe, a man particularly fed up with lack of support from the athletics establishment. His career lasted only a little longer than McDonald Bailey's.
Meanwhile as reported in Inside the Games there is a growing feeling in the higher echelons of world sport that the BOA lifetime Olympic ban would be overturned under international law. The BOA is looking more and more isolated, despite the posturing of its Chairman, former Conservative Sports Minister Colin Moynihan. The BOA is now the only Olympic association or indeed national bodyin the world to have a byelaw that contravenes the charters of both WADA and the IAAF.

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