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.
- It began to fracture the decision making process for dispensing punishment
- 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
- 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.