Monday, October 25, 2010

Anti Doping – “But Dad They Stay Out Past Midnight at Billy’s House”

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson on the winners podium with his gold medal after winning the 100 Metres event at Seoul Olympic Stadium during the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, 24th September 1988. On the left is bronze medal winner Linford Christie of Great Britain. Johnson won the event in a world record time of 9.79 seconds, but was disqualified for doping, with Carl Lewis of the USA, taking the title. (Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images)

As parents attempt to raise their children, they figure out at some point that a key to affecting their behavior is consistency. You have to deliver a clear message that is supported by consistent delivery of the message and consistent punishment that fits the transgression. The rules and punishments must be the same for all your children. And there can be no preferential treatment or you will lose credibility. If you can do these things you have a good shot at creating the type of behavior that you are trying to achieve from your children.

As parents strive to create this environment for their children there is always the issue that as they try to establish rules and consistency for their children, their kids in turn will come across friends with more “lenient” parents. As most children are influenced by their peers, they soon come home and say things like, “Jenny can stay out til 2am , why can’t I?”.  Or even worse, “Billy gets to decide his own punishment, why can’t I?”. Because now your rules are in question and soon you find yourself defending why your rules are “better” for your children. Even worse you find your children doing everything they can to get around the rules and sometimes flat out breaking them.

As some kids are allowed to bend the rules, one or two lenient parents lead to a neighborhood where soon everyone is staying out after midnight! Because lack of enforcement of the rules leads to mass breaking of them.

As I have watched the anti doping news roll in over the last several seasons, it’s hit me that suddenly a lot more “kids” (athletes) have been staying out after midnight  (doping) as some parents (anti doping agencies) have caved in to pressure to let “kids be kids”, as sport imitates life!

I make this comparison, because drug use among track and field athletes seems to be taking on the appearance of teen behavior within a neighborhood, as the IAAF and federations ease the rules for some and send a message of potential leniency throughout the neighborhood.

Young people never like to hear the phrase, “when I was a kid”, because in their opinion things were “different” way back then. But I’m going to invoke a similar phrase , “back in the day” to establish my comparisons with raising kids and trying to eradicate the drug problem in this sport. Because “back in the day” this sport had a fairly strong no tolerance policy when doping first emerged it’s ugly head publically.

I remember the first “major” athlete to be suspended when recent WR setter Ben Plucknett was found guilty of a doping offence back in 1981 – just weeks after setting a pair of WR’s in the discus. Ben’s punishment? A lifetime ban by the IAAF. Harsh? Yes. But those of us old enough to remember what a “whoopin” was and vice principals using “paddles” in schools will tell you that children were much better behaved when they knew that severe punishment awaited negative actions!

As a result we went through the 80’s with few suspensions. Until 1988. The Olympics. Seoul South Korea. Ben Johnson. Three days after winning gold in the 100 meters Ben’s face was plastered all over every major publication in the world as a drug cheat. He was given a lifetime ban. Canada held the Dubin Inquiry.  Athlete and coach (Charlie Francis) were banned from Canadian athletics and both became pariahs of the sport – and the sporting world in general – and the face of “Cheating” world wide. (note: Ben was allowed back after four years, was subsequently found doping again and quickly removed and life was reinstituted)

From that point forward for well over a decade the only “doping” that was heard about on a major basis was the systematic doping from the Eastern Bloc that was exposed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that of “tainted supplements” that became exposed in the 90’s. Evidently the fear of lifetime banishment had its rewards and we seemed to be close to even in the war against drugs.

Then two things happened during the “oughts”. First was BALCO, where we discovered that while we were holding our own against “known” drugs, we had fallen behind with respect to “designer” drugs. But the response was different than in the past. This time the IAAF allowed USADA (the US Anti Doping Agency) to decide the punishment and it handed out two year suspensions. Now for most involved it was akin to “life” as nearly all dropped out of the sport. But it established three bad precedents IMHO.

  1. It began to fracture the decision making process for dispensing punishment
  2. In so doing it began to allow “favoritism” to affect doping sanctions because, let’s face it, when it’s your own you look for all kinds of reasons why what was done was really not that bad
  3. The result of one and two was the minimization of the greatest deterrent to doping that the sport ever had – the life time ban

The sum total of the above actions in mid decade lead to what I consider the decade’s second major occurrence – the relaxing of anti doping rules for some as a means of equalizing past discretions by others – ie we’ve been screwed by others who were doping so now it’s our turn.

Beginning with Ben Johnson during the Dubin Inquiry, one of the prevalent reasons given for doping is “everyone else is doing it” (they’re staying out past midnight at Billy’s house)! The big deterrent to other athletes doping (staying out past midnight) was the punishment for getting caught. Hence the occurrences of major athletes being caught doping had become rather rare. The advent of designer drugs made the chances of getting caught much slimmer. The relaxing of the punishment has made it less of a gamble to attempt to usurp the rules.

Unfortunately for the sport, relaxing the rules/punishment wasn’t just being attempted by the athletes and federations, but was also openly done by the IAAF itself – opening the door for others to attempt to “stay out past curfew”. As the IAAF first started accepting the recommendations of the local Anti Doping Agencies for punishment (as it did with USADA and the BALCO crew), then started allowing countries delay in getting their Anti Doping Agencies up and running all together as it did with Jamaica in 2008. As Jamaica not only didn’t have an Anti Doping Agency in place as per the deadline it had been given by the IAAF, but it was allowed to go without  joining the Regional Anti Doping Agency as well! A series of bad precedents that was set by the sport.

To add to the problem the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) saw fit to defend Jamaica’s lack of adherence to the rules as well as the poorly established Anti Doping Agency once it did get underway – including poor testing procedures, a bad board of directors accused of showing favoritism; and the lack of an adequate testing facility within the country. Even as Shelly Ann Fraser became the eighth Jamaican athlete to run afoul of anti doping rules within a year! Indicating that the lax adherence to the rules, as well as weakened punishment, may be leading to an increase in doping in the sport. As the risk of detection and punishment are both reduced.

For substantiation look no further than the number of drug suspensions the sport has had in the two years since Beijing, as the IAAF’s records show that no less than 120 athletes have been suspended during that time frame – up through the suspension of Lashawn Merritt this past week! Of that number 95 (or 81%) were given bans of 2 years. Only two were given life time bans, with three given four years, and another  three given eight years.

Of the120 the United States (the nation most talked about in doping circles for the past decade due to BALCO) accounted for 6 suspensions. Of those 4 athletes received two years, one received 3 months (for pot), and one twenty one months (Merritt’s two years with three months off for “cooperating”). A relatively small number when on considers that the US seemingly was leading the world in suspensions the last decade.

By comparison, the nation that suddenly seems to be on the fast track to drug suspensions is Nigeria. And of the 120 suspensions in the last two years twelve were Nigerians. Another small country like Jamaica with poor anti doping oversight. And it’s shown, especially in the last year. Nigeria has taken notice, however, and is coming hard with the suspensions as 11 of the 12 were given two year suspensions, with the remaining athlete receiving a three year suspension. They may be staying out late at Billy’s house, but Mother Nigeria seems intent on putting a stop to the shenanigans!

So how has Jamaica done given the defense of it’s system by the IAAF and WADA? Well, as previously mentioned they have had eight athletes suspended since Beijing – all within a 12 month period. How has the punishment been? Well 2 have received two year bans. One received a six month ban and 5 received 3 month bans – giving Jamaica the only 3 month bans in the sport that were not pot related. As the Jamaican Anti Doping Agency – already well criticized – seems to have the goal of getting athletes back on the track as quickly as possible as opposed to sending a clear message that doping will not be tolerated.

Of course, when your parents allow you to stay out after curfew, why come home early? So it’s hard to blame Jamaica for recommending slight punishment when their recommendations are being accepted. Even when athletes with similar transgressions are being given two year bans.

For example. Last year we had Lansford Spence (JAM), Marvin Anderson (JAM), Yohan Blake (JAM), Allodin Fothergill (JAM), and Sheri Ann Brooks (JAM) all test positive for the banned substance 4-Methyl-2-Hexanamine. The argument given was that the drug did NOT enhance their performance, nor did they attempt to cheat as the substance was found in another item. Hence their 3 month bans.

Yet athletes from Torri Edwards (nikethamide), to Justin Gatlin (Adderall) to Lashawn Merritt (DEHA) tested positive for substances found within other items that provided the athletes with no assistance and it was determined they were not ingested with intent to “cheat” but all received two year bans for their transgressions. The difference being (IMHO) that USADA already facing negative publicity came down hard to show it is taking a harsh stance against doping. An inequity that costs the athletes dearly however. Consider that both Shelly Ann Fraser and Lashawn Merritt ingested substances that did NOT aid their performances, yet six months means that Fraser will be allowed to compete anywhere she wants, but Merritt faces blackballing from promoters as a “cheat” and may not be able to compete in London whether he makes the team or not!

As the head of the track and field “family” the IAAF must a) ensure that ALL athletes are treated fairly and equitably, and b) get back to utilizing the tool of punishment as a deterrent to increased doping.

The solution here is that the sport must take back control of Anti Doping Programs. No single nation, or plurality of countries, should be allowed to skirt the rules – just as a family must administer punishment to siblings equally and fairly. While local and regional Anti Doping Agencies should be in place and function to ensure that anti doping procedures are being carried out – sample taking, out of competition testing, etc. All samples should be sent to centralized testing centers, and tested under the direction of WADA. Correspondingly suspensions should be dispensed solely by WADA – as the inmates should not be running the asylum!

The IAAF has erred in allowing the sports Anti Doping Program to be circumvented, and even more so in it’s complicity and defense of the rules being “bent”. If the sport is serious about stopping drugs it must get back to pre New Millennium administration of its policies. Life time bans must be back in vogue with two years be a minimum ban only in cases of extenuating circumstances. Reality is that Drug Treatment programs last longer than three and six months. And the message that needs to be sent out in track and field is that if you stay out past curfew (dope) you will be severely grounded. Whether you are a star in the sport or someone that no one knows.

The sport has survived the Eastern Bloc, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones. What it will NOT survive is a “jailbreak” on adherence to the rules or the appearance of impropriety/ favoritism in administering them. As much as no one can stand a cheat, the public is unforgiving when cheating appears to come from the top. As negative as any drug news is for track and field, its better to be perceived as doing something about as opposed to aiding and abetting.

It’s time for track and field to clamp back down on it’s “curfew” and get all of it’s children back in before midnight. Too many stragglers could damage credibility.


  1. The difference between Fraser and Merritt, Edwards and Justin is that Justin tested positive for a stimulant, Torri Tested positive for a stimulant, and Merritt tested positive 3 times for a stimulant. Shelly Ann didn't.

    The 5 athletes who tested positive from Jamaica only got 3 months because as you said it was agreed that it wasn't taken to cheat or aid performance AND the substance wasn't on the WADA banned list.

    The list of Jamaicans who got busted for something serious, all received bans of 2 years.

    Patrick Jarrett, Julian Dunkley, Steve Mullings, Christopher Williams, and Bobby-Gaye Wilkens all received 2 year bans.

    Torri Edwards had her ban reduced, as well as having the substance removed from the banned list. Justin Gatlin never had to stop competing as far as I know and his ban was overturned.

    So it may not simply be that Jamaica wanted their athletes competing as soon as possible. Its more likely that everyone out past midnight isn't getting involved in the same things.

  2. Sounds like you frequent message boards my friend, as these are the message board arguments that have been used to justify Jamaica's arbitrary use of a non standard term of suspension (because Jamaica is the ONLY nation handing out 3 month suspensions), as well as to demonize American athletes inadvertent drug use …

    Ironically, everyone wants to classify the substances found in the American's systems as stimulants, and say that that is the difference between the drugs found in the American's system and the Methyl-2-Hexanamine that was found in the Jamaican's systems … The reality of the situation, however, is that Methyl-2-Hexanamine is also a stimulant !!! It was developed and patented by Eli Lilly in 1944, classified as a stimulant, and is related in structure to the compounds amphetamine and ephedrine …

    So, if bans are based on the classification of substances, then the Jamaicans in question should have received at minimum 2 years bans each for ingesting stimulants …

    With respect to the comment that it was agreed that the Jamaican's were shown not to have attempted to cheat, that was the decision of the Jamaican federation, which was accepted by the IAAF … In the case of Torri Edwards and Justin Gatlin it was the determination of the IAAF and WADA that they did not attempt to cheat … Unfortunately for the athletes that did not help their careers … Edwards ban was reduced in so much as the drug was taken off the banned list because it is simply labeled a stimulant and provides no assistance … Once the drug came off the list she was reinstated as at that point she had committed no wrong doing … She missed a full season however, including the '04 Olympics …

  3. As for Gatlin, it was well known that he took Adderall as he had done so since a 10 year old for Attention Deficit Disorder … And knowing the classification of the drug he did not take his medication within 3 days of competition … Yet when the trace was found in his system the 2 year ban was instituted - and he missed the European season post college as a result … It wasn't until early '02 that his ban was reduced … However … Even given that he received no aid AND was proven not to take the medication within 3 days of competition or with the intent to cheat, it is because of that "ban" that Gatlin received the four year ban in '06 …

    A couple other things while on the subject … Everyone throws around the word STIMULANT as if it is magical - automatically insinuating that stimulant means to make faster or sharper … When in fact the medical classification of a stimulant means: n 1., a substance that temporarily increases the physiologic activity of an organ or organ system. Meaning that it is used to activate an organ to increase it's activity or function …

    In the case of Gatlin, for example, Adderall is used to actually slow down his activity and calm him down - the complete opposite of what most people would have you believe … And in the case of Merritt, well we all know by now exactly what organ his drug was designed to increase activity in … But the word is used to elicit an emotional response in people - especially on message boards …

  4. Also, bringing up all of banned Jamaican athletes is irrelevant to the conversation … Though it does highlight the fact that there has been significant increase of Jamaicans in the last two years … Also Williams was already done with his career - easy to give him two years …

    At the end of the day, however, after all that we have both said, the premise of the post is still the same, Jamaica is the only nation out there handing out 3 month suspensions … Most drug treatment plans last longer than that !!! That's not a suspension … And the point of the post is that there needs to be more equity in how suspensions are distributed, and that the federations/local anti doping agencies have a vested interest in how those suspensions are applied … Which ironically is one of the items that WADA defended with Jamaica's Anti Doping Agency, that the board was clearly showing favoritism but that they were working on it !!! That's akin to saying, yes I know my child is making errors but we're working on it … That's just not acceptable on a global stage …

  5. Bro, calm down, because all this diatribe sound like sour grapes. First of all the history of track and field doping is littered with USA culpability along with the Soviet bloc especially the East Germans. You romancitised the past as if most people were innocent back then when in fact the IAAF anti-doping was almost non-existent. The 70s and the 80s was the golden drug era for the East Germans. That is why all the women sprint records will never be broken ( 100m, 200m 400m, 4x100m) because people was doping and the IAAF turn a blind eye. The USA and the Eastern Block took the cold war to the olympics. The USA 1988 olympic team had a large% of their track squad tested postive for illegal substances but USATF allowed them to participated anyway...nobody was whinning about that.Karma is a bitch.The field is now level.

    The substance taken by jamaica athletes( Brooks, Blake etal) was not even on the WADA ban list, it was placed on the list this year.For you to mention Shelley ann Fraser name in the same breadth is ridiculous to say the least and just show you are catching after straw.Gatlin first incidence is forgivable but the second time around in my book is suspect.Gatlin serve is time so he should have all the oppurtunity to compete. Merritt situation I symphatise with and I agree that he should be allowed to participate in the London olympics.

    The jamaican bashing is uncalled for because if truth be told "we didnot start the fire".

  6. Thank you for confirming my point …

    First of all, not sour grapes at all, nor Jamaica bashing … Simply a commentary on the past two years since the Games, and the relaxing of the rules in some parts of the world …

    I point blank stated that the Eastern Bloc doped systematically … I also point blank stated that the US was at the forefront of the current round of reduction of suspensions and was the leader in suspensions during the past decade …

    I've also written in the past that the World Records on the women's side - as well as some on the men's - are clearly unattainable because of doping in the past … So I have talked about, and been against, doping regardless of who has been the culprit … It just so happens that Jamaican's are currently in the spotlight …

    Your response is most confirming of my post, especially the comment: "Karma is a bitch. The field is now level" … As well as the comment: truth be told we did not start the fire" … As both clearly support the following statement that I made in my post ..

    "The sum total of the above actions in mid decade lead to what I consider the decade’s second major occurrence – the relaxing of anti doping rules for some as a means of equalizing past discretions by others – ie we’ve been screwed by others who were doping so now it’s our turn."

    So thank you for the confirmation …

  7. One final thing … Both you and Skin have mentioned that a substance was NOT on the banned list … A substance does not have to be on the list in order for a ban to be instituted … As new substances are detected all the time and found to be "bannable" … In which case they are added and a ban instituted … Most notable being THG … A substance simply needs to be related to an item on the list to cause a ban …

  8. Did my comment not go through?

  9. Very first one right at the top …

    If you posted something since then it may not have taken if it were too long … Because the comments section will only take posts up to a certain length … It's stock software is limited and not set up like a message board … So I'm limited to what I can do … Although if there were interest I could set up a message board and attach it to this blog …

    But if you have something that is that long and you wish to discuss further feel free to email me ( as I love to discuss the sport as you can see and would certainly respond …

  10. Interesting premise, but facts are wrong. Plucknett was not banned for life. IAAF didn't ratify his "world record," but TAC kept it as the US record. Mixed message at best.

  11. No, the IAAF did in fact give Plucknet a lifetime ban ... Problem was that TAC allowed him to compete domestically AND kept his record as the American Record ... And you are absolutely correct, a mixed message ...

    Which is exactly what I am talking about ... When the world is doing one thing but one or two others are doing something else that is NOT the proper way to conduct business as a sport ...

    I'm not advocating for the wrongs of what has transpired in the past in the US ... By the same token I am not going to support what is being done today that is wrong ...

    The issue here is that there is nothing that can be done about previous transgressions, there is something that can be done about what is taking place today ...

    And note that I did not say that any single entity should be policed more, but rather that the sport needs to take the decision making process out of the hands of local bodies - because they have a vested interest in either not punishing their athletes or punishing them as lightly as possible ...

    I understand the anger at what the Eastern Bloc and US and others have done in the past ... But we do not fix it by allowing new ills to take place, but rather by putting forth policies that are administered unilaterally around the globe ..

  12. Not correct...From Sports Illustrated in 1988: A week after his 237'4", Plucknett took another blow. He was handed an 18-month suspension for testing positive for anabolic steroids five months earlier at a meet in New Zealand. Plucknett fought the action, saying he was denied due process and that the testing was conducted improperly. The International Amateur Athletic Federation rejected his argument and refused to ratify his throw as a record, even though TAC recognized it. Thus, for a while the U.S. record was farther than the world record. That has changed now; in 1986 Jurgen Schult of East Germany set the current world record of 243 feet.

    Read more:

  13. SI is often incorrect in its reporting on track and field ... It's not what they do on a regular basis ...

    Ben was indeed given life by the IAAF ... He was eligible to petition for a reduction after 18 months ...

    Excerpt from the New York Times following Ben's death - Nov 22, 2002:

    "Less than a week after the second record, track and field's world governing body, then known as the International Amateur Athletic Federation, announced that he had tested positive at a meet the previous Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in New Zealand. It said the drug was nortestosterone, a bodybuilding anabolic steroid banned partly because of potentially dangerous side effects.

    The federation nullified both world records, the first time it had thrown out a record because of a positive drug test. It banned Plucknett from competition for life, although he could petition for reinstatement after 18 months.

    The Athletics Congress, then the American governing body, allowed him to compete in domestic meets. His 237-4 throw was recognized as the American record and still stands."

  14. I have been reading your blog for over a year now and for most part I can say your commentary has been fair and balanced however, in some post you tend to tangent off in a discourse of what can be described as a USA flag-waving rant.Some people over the years have imbibed the notion that it is the manifest destiny of the USA to rule track and field( especially the sprints) therefore the sudden rise of caribbean athletes to USA dominance is too much for them to handle. The irony of all this is back in the days we in the caribbean ( Track fans) have always look up to american athletes( Owens, Metcaffe,Rudolf,Tommy smith,lewis,Ashford etc) and show much love, but ever since the USA was dethroned in Beijing its hard for a lot of USA track fans to accept pschologically...... thus the constant hate and jealousy continues to spew all over the message boards.

  15. On the matter of drug usage in track and field, it is ironic that track and field which rank low on the totem pole in terms of fans, television coverage and financial compensation - is singled out and being given the strictest scrutiny and the harshest penalty. No other sport is subjected to the same level of scrutiny. On a another note WADA rules are at times confusing to say the least. If athletes are responsible for what they put in their body how then can you have a ban list of substances but then there are other substances that are also ban but not on the list...what kind of catch 22 foolishness is that?.They might as well ban all supplements for all I care because athletes are going to continue to test positive for these substances.Metyly-2-hexanamine is not anabolic steriod, not a masking agent but a stimulant like caffeine in coffee. The jamaican athletes who ingetsed this substance at a meet in jamaica was given the three month suspension because the punishment must fit the crime. Remember I said previously that it was not even on the ban list at the time.Shelly-ann Fraser case was a narcotic pain killer( oxycodene) given to her by her coach.The problem is that because track and field has had a poor history of drug usage with its athletes most people when they hear about athletes being tested positive - are all label cheats- people donot see the difference between a Dwain Chambers and a LaShawn Merritt.You can blame the media for that. As a fan I do my research first before I offer any opinion.

    On a final note we must not forget that no matter what - for some cheats- the human vices of greed, money and fame still trumps all manner of punishment.Because if truth be told how many of us would be willing to pop a pill if it can make us accquired the finer this in life without ever being caught? My guess is about 97% of the population.

  16. First, thank you for reading my blog … I appreciate your comments and agree with most of what you have just said … But do have a couple of items …

    The whole "America Should Dominate" thing means little to me … Most things go in cycles, including most events … There are a few events that have been traditionally dominated by Americans, but I could care less frankly … Linford Christie is one of my all time favorites … And I routed for Ben to beat Carl, before it all blew up in a drug bust … What concerns me, in terms of results, is not that others win or finish in front of us, but our lack of proper preparation - as you've seen me write about …

    And while I can't speak for the world, I've spoken to enough people to know that we have been conditioned as a sport to believe that precipitous drops/improvements in the sprints are tied to doping - doesn't matter who it is … Americans point fingers at Jamaicans, Jamaicans point fingers at Americans, both point fingers at Russians !!! And I blame that more on the sports poor doping policies than in any individual country or it's following … Because we know what is in force now is faulty so people lack faith in the system …

    As for me "flag waving" for the US, I admit that I do so occasionally … But only because there has been so much anti American sentiment out there for the last decade or so - admittedly some of it warranted … And let's face it, most people have some sentiment for their own … But I do try very hard to be fair and unbiased … As you said you noticed yourself … But I have found that most people think me to be fair unless I am goring their ox … And that is human nature …

    The one thing that we disagree on most is about the athletes that got 3 month suspensions … If the rest of the world is getting 2 years for similar cases then 3 months does not fit the crime … Now perhaps 3 months should be the norm … Personally, my feeling is that if you accidently ingested something and it did not aid you then there should be no ban … Issue a warning, and if the substance is found a second time, then go with a 1 year ban - shame on you … But for some to get 3 months when in fact others are getting 2 years is not an equitable punishment … My point is that the top of the sport needs to decide the punishment and then administer it equitably - not everyone independently decide what they believe to be fair for their athletes … When you run a red light you pay a set fine … You don't decide that you had to run it because you were in a hurry so you should get a lesser fine … The fine imposed is a standard … Similarly I feel that suspensions should follow a similar pattern … And if Jamaica or the US or whomever feels that a suspension period is faulty, then there should be a request for a change for ALL not for a set group …

  17. I couldnot agree with you more. But I must say I find your commentary overall over quite deep, refreshing and edifying. I must confess that I look forward to your posting every week as it is -in my opinion- one of the few, if not, the only serious track and field commentary on the web. All those other bolgs are a joke.I cannot even say the same for US track and field news. I think you are doing a great service to track and field in this regard. Peace.

  18. Thank you ... That means a lot ...