In the recent past there has been much discussion in international sporting circles in respect of the scourge of drugs in sport. This comes against the backdrop of a growing number of positive drug tests around the world and in numerous sports, including some of the professional sports in the USA.
The most recent emphasis on the situation in Jamaica where criticisms have been levelled at that country’s anti doping agency, JADCO, has left many seemingly speaking out more from emotionalism attendant to nationalism rather than engaging in the kind of analysis necessary to get at the truth.
Few seem to realise that in the recent past the President of the USA, Barack Obama, after months of speaking and boasting of his health care initiative and its decidedly positive impact, has now had to come back to the American people with two apologies in as many weeks. He may well have been a victim of the same malady that seems to be plaguing those who hasten to respond to the Jamaican situation.
While no one from the Caribbean would relish Jamaican or any other Caribbean athletes being associated with drugs to get ahead in sport, we do need to get at the truth.
After all, that was the reason that Nelson Mandela facilitated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following his accession to the presidency of South Africa after many years in prison. He thought, as most people do, that getting at the truth would facilitate the kind of cleansing that could set the nation on a path towards genuine reconciliation and nationhood.
The doping legacy
In previous editions of this Column re reflected on the legacy of doping in sport and noted that it dates all the way back to antiquity. Yes, even in the days of the Ancient Olympics in Greece and neighbouring territories the strong desire to win at all coasts plagued participating athletes to the point of accessing performance-enhancing substances.
It is amazing how much the desire to achieve national and international recognition as well as benefit from any sort of pecuniary offers, has driven men and women to do whatever they deem necessary to succeed.
While we have always advocated the numerous positive values attendant to participation in sport human society has nonetheless showered the successful with so much of everything that wining is indeed everything.
Losers have come to the recognition that they are without recognition even by those very advocates of participation. Interestingly and unfortunately, this is true in every sphere of life.
We have had the spectre of several athletes in different sports having died rather suddenly and even without asking their relatives simply jumped to inform the world that they did not die from the use of performance-enhancing substances.
Who asked them? No one.
It remains an amazing fact that sport has become particularly tainted as a result of the increasing number of unscrupulous individuals involved in the business.
It is a business. Many people in some parts of the world simply refuse to recognise that sport is big business.
Indeed, precisely because sport has become big business that doping has become so much an integral part of it.
While in the past there were fingers pointing at Cycling and Track and Field Athletics, we have seen that they can just as easily point to Football, Baseball, Tennis, Archery, Golf and Shooting. The list now seems endless.
It is all about the desire to win and all that comes with such success.
Are we serious?
In sport as in life, an individual is innocent until proven guilty.
Many athletes pointed to the significantly changed physique of Ben Johnson in the late 1980s. When he was injured in the early part of 1988 many claimed that he would not be fit in time for the Seoul Olympics later that year. Amazingly, when the Canadian Trials came around the injury seemed to have faded and he made the A Standard established by the IAAF.
There were doubts at the time about just how clean Johnson was but the tests kept showing that he was in the clear. He went on to win the 100m in Seoul only to be tested positive following the event.
While many athletes were eager to point to Johnson few would have considered that there were other athletes in the same race who would have been accused at some time of having been tainted by the use of drugs.
An article in the Daily Times dated Thursday 24 April 2003 stated, Lewis was one of 19 American medallists named by Wade Exum, the former United States Olympic Committee director for drug control from 1991 to 2000, who released more than 30,000 pages of documents relating to cases detailing cover-ups involving some of the biggest American names in Olympic sport. Exum’s papers reveal more than 100 positive drug tests involving US athletes from 1988 to 2000. In many cases, he alleged, the athletes were not prevented from competing. Included in the documents are details implicating athletes who won 19 Olympic medals from 1984 to 2000. Lewis was just one of three future gold medallists, along with the 200m winner Joe DeLoach and the 400m hurdle champion Andre Phillips, who tested positive at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis.
Lewis was awarded the gold medal after the disqualification of Johnson.
Linford Christies who was move dup to second in the same event is referred to in the same article as follows, And yet Christie himself was lucky to hang on to his medal — a bronze upgraded to silver after Johnson’s disqualification — after the IOC Medical Commission accepted by one vote his argument that it was the Korean herbal drink Ginseng that caused his own positive test for pseudoephedrine.
One wonders what led the IOC to accept this argument at the time.
Closer to home
The Jamaicans are now the focus of much media attention given their historic achievements in Track and Field Athletics over the past several decades.
Some are anxious to emotionally launch a scathing attack on anyone who even remotely suggests that there is a possibility that athlete sin the Caribbean could be involve din the use of performance enhancing substances in Athletics.
But the reality is that in the past five years Jamaican athletes have ac counted for 18 positive tests in the sport.
Steve Mullins has been banned for life. The same fate has befallen Julian Dunkley.
Dominique Blake has been handed a six-year ban.
In this year alone, some top Jamaican athletes have tested positive for one substance or another. Of course the media have chosen to highlight Veronica Campbell, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, while seemingly ignoring the others, discus throwers Allison Randall and Travis Smikle and a junior athlete.
Also in this year Trinidad and Tobago’s star female sprinter, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, has fallen under the axe in a manner of speaking, having tested positive as well.
Another Trinidadian athlete had to be withdrawn from this year’s World Championships for a similar reason.
In the past we have had Track and Field athletes from Cuba, Surinam, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and our own St Vincent and the Grenadines test positive.
Interestingly, the majority, while knowing that the regulations stipulate that the athlete is responsible for whatever is found in his/her body, still claim no knowledge of how the drugs got into their system.
The Jamaica scenario
The positive test emanating from Jamaica in 2013 has led to the veritable opening of a can of worms in many respects.
Renee Anne Shirley, former executive Director at JADCO, had an article carried in the prestigious Sports Illustrated magazine that stated in part, The current program—while improved—makes a mockery of Jamaica’s posturing and flames suspicion more than it douses it. Between the time the current board was appointed, in February 2012, and the start of the London Olympics late last July, out-of-date testing kits and limited staffing resources resulted in a total of one out-of-competition test. Below are the full 2012 testing numbers by month—with not one out-of-competition test in the three months leading into the Games:
The three months prior to a major World Championships and Olympic Games are important because that is the time that many believe athletes and their coaches use to access any additional assistance needed.
Even more interesting was Shirley’s revelation that JADCO carried out just one out-of-competition drug test in the five months leading up to the London Olympics.
Further cause for concern came when the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) announced that it was going to Jamaica to see the situation there firsthand.
Then The Telegraph carried a story on 16 October 2013, which stated,Now, in an interview with Telegraph Sport, Shirley has added to her criticisms of Jamaica’s anti-doping measures by claiming that blood-testing kits that were delivered during her tenure at JADCO have never been used.
Instead, she says Jamaican athletes are subject only to urine tests by JADCO, even though blood-testing is the only way to detect the presence of human growth hormone (HGH) – a substance that could be of particular advantage to sprinters.
Following WADA’s visit to Jamaica and its meeting with government officials at its meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa recently, The Gleaner carried an article dated Friday 15 November 2013 that stated in part, A release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday said WADA told the minister that it was satisfied that she has accepted the practical suggestions made and now looks forward to the full and speedy implementation of the recommendations.
These recommendations include the invitation to a National Anti-Doping Organisation to work with Jamaica Anti-doping Commission (JADCO) at an operational level; undertaking of a review of Jamaica’s anti-doping legislation, and the evaluation of JADCO’s governance and management structure.
In the wake of the WADA visit and subsequent comments the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) has offered to assist JADCO and Jamaica more generally. A news piece stated in part, USADA is willing to help Jamaica’s troubled anti-doping authority through its problems, chief executive Travis Tygart saying the Caribbean island’s star athletes “deserve better.”
Tygart said JADCO “reached out” to the United States Anti-Doping Agency soon after an inspection visit to Jamaica late last month by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The three bodies have had further discussions at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in South Africa this week over a USADA-JADCO partnership.
“They need to get help,” Tygart told The Associated Press.
WADA President John Fahey has also said JADCO would benefit from being partnered with another anti-doping authority.
Clearly the evidence points to the fact that Jamaican athletes are as susceptible to the appeal of performance-enhancing substances as their counterparts anywhere else in the world of sport. The evidence points to that.
Lance Armstrong never admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs even when his colleagues broke their silence. Interestingly, the US and the world of Cycling, indeed the world of sport, so badly needed a hero that they all ignored the revelations of his peers.
Finally, Armstrong revealed that he had been using the substances for an extended period of time.