One telling phrase sums up the attitude of those, at the very highest levels of international sport, who are trying to circumvent the law and even their own rules as far as doping is concerned. It came from the one-time Queen of Anti-Doping, Michelle Verroken, who speaking of the IOC trying not to award Ekaterina Thanou the gold medal forfeited by Marion Jones in the 100m at the Sydney Olympics, said: “I have huge sympathy for the fact that they want to do it, but this is when the legal side gets in the way (my italics).”
“…the legal side gets in the way”. Verroken, some will remember, was suddenly removed from her position as UK head of anti-doping for reasons that have never been revealed. It is a remark that has been echoed down the ages by those who have been prevented by legal safeguards from punishing those they believe are guilty of an offence.
This has been an extraordinary year for such activity by sporting authorities. It began when a very naïve new CEO of UK Athletics tried to ban Dwain Chambers from competing in the UK Indoor Trials notwithstanding that Chambers had duly served his 2 year sentence for a doping offence. It was followed by a cabal of European promoters uniting to ban Chambers from their events thus flouting restraint of trade law. Chambers, meanwhile, following the headless chicken route went to Castleford Rugby League club, who obviously know a good publicity stunt when they see one, for a trial period that duly ended in rejection. Far too late in the day he then proceeded to challenge the British Olympic Association (BOA) lifetime Olympic ban. The injunction failed not on the grounds that the by-law was legally sound but that the challenge was made far too late. So Britain's fastest man is blackballed even though he has long since served his time for a drug offence and can run under IOC and IAAF laws.
And now Thanou is back. She was involved, with her training partner Konstadinos Kederis, in a curious incident of a motor cycle crash in the night time on the eve of the Athens Olympics which precluded their participation in drugs tests; the “accident” is an issue still unresolved in the Greek courts. Meanwhile she served a two year ban for failing to take a drug test.
Thanou, unsurprisingly a pale shadow of her former self, is in the Greek team that has arrived in China much to the annoyance of the IOC President, Jacques Rogge. She is causing, as they see it, the International Olympic Committee considerable embarrassment. With Marion Jones stripped of her 2000 100 metre gold medal the next in line is due to receive it with either due ceremony or in the post. That person is Thanou. But apparently against legal advice Rogge is searching for loopholes to prevent such an occurrence. What he is in fact doing is retrospectively trying to stop Thanou receiving her due from 2000 by citing what she did in 2004. Additionally, according to press reports he is trying to prevent her from competing in Beijing by resurrecting an enquiry into the Athens incident.
Lord Coe has suggested that no medal is awarded from Sydney, which, if seen as a precedent, would eventually lead to many blank pages in the record books. Seb, although a member of the IAAF Council, seems to have forgotten that that body has already awarded Thanou the 100m silver medal because of Jones’ World Championships disqualification in Edmonton.
What a mess, what a sea of confusion. The problem lies, as I have said before, in the fact that so many of those who govern sport get themselves into an emotional lather over doping. Not only that but they seem to be proud of the fact. It is the belief of vigilantes the world over that the law “gets in the way” of due retribution. Aided by some propagandists in the media sport has convinced gullible politicians into funding millions of pounds into fighting a so called massive menace that may be illusory.
But now some of the most vigorous anti-doping campaigners are beginning to realise that the more vociferous crusaders are going too far. The former head of the World Anti Doping Agency, Dick Pound, and the great 400 metre hurdler Ed Moses have both condemned the BOA by-law that imposes a lifetime Olympic ban on a drug offender. Polls show that the general public feel that Chambers had been punished and should have been allowed to compete. With the IOC introducing a change in their doping law that prevents offenders from competing at the next Olympics it would make the BOA appear more vindictive than it does now for them to persist with it.
So what’s the message? A simple one. Cool down, get your acts together, take the legal advice offered and stand by your own rules and regulations.