Sports Comment: Drug cheats can’t beat sports

East Grinstead hockey star, Ben Payne, received a two-year ban for taking steroids (East Grinstead Observer)

In the wake of fresh accusations against cyclist Lance Armstrong, and even Sussex-based athletes like Ben Payne (hockey) and Reg Wild (athletics) suffering problems with banned substances,  Tom Stewart looks at the ongoing problem of drugs in sport.
 
Ever since people have been playing sport, they have tried to find ways to get an upper hand; drugs in sport have always been an issue.
 
One of the most high profile cases of the use of illegal drugs by a British competitor in recent years was by athlete, Dwain Chambers.
 
The 100m runner was seen as a future Olympic Gold medallist, but testing positive in an out-of-competition drugs test in Germany on 1 August 2003 saw him banned from Olympic competitions for life.
Chambers tested positive for the banned steroid THG – the first person to test positive for a new-breed of ‘designer drugs’.

A disciplinary hearing by UK Athletics on February 24, 2004 resulted in a two-year ban from athletics, backdated to begin on November 7, 2003.

He was also stripped of the medals he had won since mid-2002 after admitting that he had taken THG from that date.

Chambers’ 2002 relay gold medal performance was erased, costing team-mates Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Christian Malcolm their medals in the process. Chambers was also ordered by the IAAF to pay back his earnings from the period of his athletics career that was affected by his drug use.

In 2004 the World Anti-Doping Code was implemented by sports organizations prior to the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, harmonising the rules and regulations across all sports and all countries for the first time.

More than 600 sports organizations – international sports federations, national anti-doping organizations, International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, a number of professional leagues in various countries of the world, etc – have adopted the Code to date.

Over the years, different sporting bodies have evolved differently to the war against doping. Some, such as athletics and cycling, are becoming increasingly vigilant.

However, there has been criticism that sports such as soccer and baseball are doing nothing about the issue and are letting athletes implicated in doping away unpunished.

Runner Christine Ohuruogu was suspended from competing in the 2006 European Athletics Championships, having missed three out-of-competition drug tests.

Known as the “whereabouts” system of the World Anti-Doping Code, she missed one in October 2005 and two in June 2006.

According to IAAF and British Olympic Association rules, she received a one-year ban for missing these tests, which expired on August 5, 2007.

The BOA also imposed a lifetime ban excluding Ohuruogu from competing at future Olympic Games for Great Britain. She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the decision was upheld.

Christine Ohuruogu won Olympic Gold in 2008 after the BOA overturned her ban(Photo: IAAF)

Ohuruogu submitted a further appeal, stating that she would probably leave Britain and compete in the Olympics for another country if it was unsuccessful. Her Olympic ban was finally overturned on November 27, 2007.

Linford Christie tested positive for the stimulant Pseudoephedrine at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but he escaped sanction after the International Olympic Committee’s disciplinary committee voted by a margin of 11 to 10.

It was reported that two members of the judging panel were asleep when the vote was taken. Reference to this is made in a television advert Christie made for Egg online banking in Autumn 1998.

At the 1994 European championships staged in Helsinki, where British team Captain Christie won his third European 100m title, he was caught up in a doping controversy after Solomon Wariso, a 400m runner making his international championship debut tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine.

Wariso revealed that he had used an over-the-counter pick-you-up called ‘Up Your Gas’, which Christie had bought in a Florida pharmacy.

In 1999, Christie was found guilty of using the performance enhancing drug Nandrolone following a doping test after an indoor meet in Germany. He was found to have more than 100 times normal levels of the metabolites of nandrolone in his urine.

Various explanations were offered to explain the results, including eating avocado and using nutritional supplements.

The IAAF rejected that explanation and gave Christie a two-year ban from athletics, despite UK Athletics feeling that there was “reasonable doubt whether the drug had been taken deliberately” – a decision which ignored the usual drug testing principle of “strict liability”.

Christie has always denied any wrong doing, saying: “If I took drugs there had to be a reason to take drugs. I had pretty much retired from the sport.”

Furthermore, he denied that his physique was gained through drug use and promoted an anti-steroid approach: “It does not follow that all athletes who are big take drugs… Only by testing all athletes will the sport be kept clean of drugs.”

Following the ban, the British Olympic Association announced that Christie would not be accredited for any future Olympic Games, in accordance with their regulations.

In the successful London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, Christie was absent from the team, even though he states he attempted to get involved.

Christie has cited an ongoing feud between himself and former team-mate Sebastian Coe as a likely reason for the snub, although since 1999 British athletics chiefs had “overlooked” Christie because of his positive nandrolone test.

Commenting on the argument, Christie’s team mate, Derek Redmond, said he was “a well-balanced athlete, he has a chip on both shoulders”.

However in April 2006 it was announced that Christie would be a senior mentor for athletes on the national team, along with former athletes Steve Backley, Daley Thompson and Katharine Merry.

This proved controversial due to Christie’s drugs ban. “I don’t think he should be in that mentor role,” said Paula Radcliffe, the marathon world record-holder. “We have to make sure that the people in that mentor role have an integrity and strong sense of ethics and morals.”

The BOA has confirmed that their ban on Olympic accreditation for Christie remains in place. He was, however, personally invited by Ken Livingstone to be one of the carriers of the 2008 Olympic Torch on its journey through London, but was unable to accept because of coaching commitments.

The British Olympic Association has a rule of a lifetime Olympic ban for any British athlete who fails a drugs test, while the IOC say cheats will not be allowed to compete at the next Games even if their suspension is completed.

And yet under World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, athletes are entitled to reduced bans if they provide evidence against suppliers.

Andy Parkinson, head of the UK Anti-Doping Agency said: “We have seen in the United States, and also here in the UK, how going beyond the anti-doping rules established by WADA creates confusion and impedes our role.

“The World Anti-Doping Code, agreed at an international level, encourages athletes to provide substantial assistance which can be grounds for a reduction in the sanction period.

“If we remove all incentives for athletes to share their stories and information with us, then we will continue to struggle to catch those who are supplying performance-enhancing substances and often operate on the edges of sport with relative impunity.”

Although the BOA introduced the by-law in 1992, it has allowed 27 successful appeals against the lifetime ban – usually on the basis of the offences being minor.

Parkinson admits that any softening of the IOC and BOA rules would be controversial.

He added: “It is clear that this is a hard message to get across and to agree on, largely because these eligibility rules are easy to defend.

“But if we cannot be seen to be working with all athletes, then what hope do we have in really getting to the heart of the doping problem and to those that traffic and supply.”

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