Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dwain Chambers and What's Wrong with the Drug Program

Snipets of the Dwain Chambers book have been leaking out on the Internet as a result of it being serialized In Sportsmail. .And, of course, as with "Speed Trap" and other books, it appears that he is ready to "tell all" - or at least a bit of what he knows. Already John Regis, his agent, is being investigated because Chambers says that Regis knew he was doping. Once again doping is in the headlines of the sport.

In its quest to become a truly professional sport and command world wide attention, support, and dollars, track and field in my opinion has three crucial areas that are stumbling blocks - Drugs, Structure, and Marketing. Of these, drugs is the most visible, and therefore the most damaging with respect to the general public. Because during this first decade of the New Millennium the sport has become synonymous with doping via high profile court cases such as BALCO and the suspension of high profile athletes.

Unfortunately for the sport, however, it's not just articles about drug busts that command attention when it comes to track and field. The announced busts are always just the beginning of the reporting cycle. In large part, in my opinion, because the way doping is handled in track and field it leaves a trail of bitter athletes, chemists and others that continue the conversation long after the busts themselves are announced. Because due to its lack of a solidly uniform doping policy, there is seldom a bust, a suspension, and a request for and granted reinstatement like you get in other sports.

For example, the most recent example of lack of uniformity can be seen in the Dwain Chambers situation. Chambers was found guilty of taking THG during the early stages of the BALCO investigation. His punishment was supposed to be a two year banishment from the sport, which he served between 2004 and 2006. That ban being handed down by the "Governing Body of the Sport" - the IAAF. Ban served. Fulfilled the requirements to be reinstated to the sport. End of story right? Not hardly - not in track and field.

You see, even though he has done his penance and served his time Great Britain has decided that there are meets they do not want him to participate in. Now the "Governing Body of the Sport" has said that he is ok to compete anywhere, any time, in any competition. But his country says that they will not allow him to participate in any Championships - World or Olympics! That would be like an NFL player being banned, returning, being allowed to play in every regular season game and the playoffs, then having his team say they won't let him suit up for the Super Bowl ! THAT would never happen in a "real" professional sport! Sort of makes you question just how much of a governing body the IAAF really is, and just who is running the sport.

But in track and field you don't have to be banned to receive that kind of treatment. Prior to actually being suspended from the sport, Marion Jones made headlines because meet promoters "suspected" that she might be dirty due to previous associations, so they blackballed her from several high paying competitions! No negative test. No suspension. Simply suspicion. So she was blackballed from meets - and it was publically noted by several meet promoters that she was being blackballed. The response from the sports "Governing Body" - nothing. Apparently track and field is the only sport where collusion is an accepted practice.

And apparently, meet promoters have decided that in spite of the doping rules that currently exist, serving a ban and "paying your dues" just doesn't but it with them. Because with the recent announcement of the upcoming Diamond League it was clearly stated that "Athletes previously involved in Doping are not going to be invited to run in the Diamond League"! So how is Dwain supposed to make a living in the sport that says he's cleared to run if the meet promoters won't give him a lane to run in?

The irony of Dwain's situation (or Marion's for that matter) for me is that I remember other European athletes being banned and welcomed back to the sport! Grit Breuer was banned in 1992 for Clenbuterol, and served the mandatory two years. She returned to the sport, competed on the Circuit; three European Championships; two World Championships and two Olympic Games before retiring from the sport! All with the knowledge that East Germany had been running one of the most sophisticated state sponsored doping programs in history!

Same for distance runner Dieter Baumann. When he was busted for Nandrolone in 1999 he was one of the few competitive non Africans in the distance events. Like Breuer, and Chambers, he served his two year ban and was reinstated to the sport. Baumann competed in Europe as well as a European Championships and World Championships before injuries caused him to leave the sport. Apparently in track and field what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander!

As we see, in select cases the drug policy of the sport is skirted, or augmented by groups and individuals to the detriment of athletes that followed the rules given them. Athletes have been denied their ability to compete in spite of the rules at hand and have been put in a position of ostracism from both fellow athletes and meets controlling their ability to earn a living. And whether or not you agree with what the athletes did, the issue here is that their indiscretions (or perceived indiscretions) do not justify others going outside the rules of the sport to accomplish their own goals - two wrongs never make a right. No wonder we have so many bitter individuals out there!

Of course the Governing Body itself serves as a poor example. In the case of Justin Gatlin the sport initially said that a positive test in 2001 was inadvertent and there was no intent to defraud or gain an advantage. So Gatlin was allowed to continue competing. But when he tested positive in 2006, it was decided to use the first test AGAINST him in order to create a second doping violation - one that created an eight year ban. But wait a minute, the sport was not done. You see, the sport said that although it was now going to count the first test against him they were willing to play "Let's Make a Deal" - tell us what we want to know and we'll let you off easy!

Now IF the goal of the sport is to eradicate its dirty athletes, where does negotiating fit in? If an individual is dirty is he or she any less dirty if they help you catch someone else? If you allow them to remain on the track does their confession make the playing field any more level? Makes me wonder exactly what the goal of the sport IS with respect to doping!

Which brings me to last year's faux paux, that of allowing Jamaica not to have an Anti Doping Agency in place. Jamaica was supposed to have had an agency in place well before the Olympic season, yet had failed to do so. Not to worry, there is a Regional Agency in the Caribbean that can be utilized until the local agency is in place. Well the Regional Agency is there, but Jamaica opted to not participate in that either! Leaving them with NO testing program in the all important Olympic season! With NO consequences from the Governing Body of the Sport! As a matter of fact the IAAF said that it went down to conduct some tests to "check on them" - a clear conflict of interest in a sport that utilizes third party Anti Doping Agencies to separate itself from the process and eliminate any sense of impropriety! Questions of impropriety aside, my question is how could the IAAF even conduct tests in Jamaica when there is no certified testing facility in the country?

Of course we're supposed to just take their word for it because the public information policy on drug testing seems to be "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" as the only information readily available to the public regarding doping is the list of those that have tested positive and are being suspended! Now THAT is what I call a lack of transparency. No lists of who has been tested, how often, or what the results were. No information on how many samples have been taken and how many have actually been tested. Only when someone is being booted from the sport do we get any information. So we have no idea who is being targeted; who isn't being tested; who may have had borderline results; or who had results swept under the rug. And unfortunately we know from history that all of these things have happened in the past!

Then in the reporting of positive tests there seems to be a problem with discretion. For starters this sport has had a huge problem with "leaks" regarding drug tests. Every season information "leaks" out of positive "A" tests before the "B" sample can be tested and confirmed. This should be virtually impossible given that samples are supposed to be labeled with numbers and not names and only a handful of individuals are supposed to know what numbers correspond to what names! Makes one wonder how the "informants" know whose sample was being tested! And if its known whose samples tests have been tested it would stand to reason that the source of the samples is known BEFORE the tests are conducted - or perhaps not conducted at all!

The solution to this aspect of the doping problem in track and field would be to develop a comprehensive drug program for the sport. One that uses a reliable and adaptable form of testing. A program that is uniform throughout the sport so that all federations are abiding by the same rules and all athletes are treated equally. And, most importantly, a program that is transparent so that everyone has access to information/knowledge on what is going on with tests, athletes, and suspensions. Then, MOST IMPORTANTLY, see to it that everyone involved with the sport is following the same rules - not implementing their own selected guidelines.

Until that happens the sport will continue to suffer from unnecessary negative publicity on the doping front.

No comments:

Post a Comment