Archive for October, 2011

The IOC, the BOA and the CAS

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Yesterday the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the IOC’s rule 45 was invalid – the rule that prevented athletes who’d served a doping ban of six months or longer from competing at the next Olympics. It was, they said, against the WADA code, and amounted to punishing athletes twice for the same offence. The reasoning is pretty cogent – indeed the BOA’s rule preventing Olympic selection of any athlete with a doping conviction would seem pretty unlikely to withstand a challenge at the CAS.

The only obvious way round it would be for WADA to add the provision to the code. I don’t suppose they will, but I wish they would.

I’m not really a big supporter of life-bans for a first offence, not across the board. Even apart from false positives, there are plenty of athletes who get involved with supplements that frankly they should have had the sense to avoid (a penis enhancer from the local drugstore, Mr Merritt? You really thought that was good idea?) or who use entirely legitimate-looking medications (Alain Baxter) that turn out to produce a positive test.

At the other end of the scale there are ‘first offences’ that clearly come as a result of careful, deliberate defrauding of other athletes, sponsors and fans – the BALCO designer-steroid scandal springs to mind. For them, I’d be a huge fan of a life ban. But for several tiresome but valid practical reasons, there is a standard-length ban, and it’s probably a reasonable compromise.

I would like the Olympics to have something special about them. I know that the Olympics are just part of the business of international sport, the same as all the other major events. But I’d still like it to be our best shot at a having an event that’s as untainted as it possibly can be.

It’s an emotional response, hell, even I know it’s at least a bit naive, but I can’t help it. The Olympics started out as event with an ethos that was anything but professional, about sport as something that meant more than just the advancement of careers – think of Jesse Owens and his German rival Luz Long’s friendship at the Berlin Olympics. The Olympics doesn’t have a monopoly on sportsmanship or on sport as a uniting force, and the IOC has been hardly the most ethically noble of organizations, but the Games are still something that unites nations and people like no other sports event.

I feel like I’m in a minority here – I know I’m in a minority as far as the sports industry and press are concerned. Soon will come the comments and emails that follow any public statement of an anti-doping nature – ‘Haven’t you ever made a mistake Michael?’ ‘What would you do if you team manager hinted your career would go better if you had a little help?’ ‘It’s about money – it’s pro sport, so you have to accept that athletes will do what they have to to get ahead.’ ‘How dare you comment on doping if you were never a top-level pro, you’re even worse than Kimmage?’ (All these are from genuine past communications.)

I’ve made mistakes, yes. None of them involved sustained attempts to defraud others. None of them involved quasi-criminal dishonesty at the level demonstrated by a committed doper.

Athletes are responsible for their own actions – ‘I was only obeying orders’ didn’t work at Nuremberg, and I don’t see why it should work here. (Although there are cases involving young athletes where some flexibility about the punishment would be sensible.)

And if you think doping is OK because it was the only way to get an end-of-season bonus is OK, then doubtless that means MPs fiddling their expenses is OK too. But there never seems much point in arguing.

There is no ‘right’ to compete in sport, even if you are a pro. Dopers returning to competition aren’t comparable to ex-cons reintegrating into society, because in the end an ex-con has to be fitted back in somewhere, and a doper doesn’t. Yet most dopers return after two years, and are broadly accepted back, even by fellow competitors. That’s actually pretty broad-minded. It doesn’t seem to me an extraordinary proposal that we should sincerely try to keep something out of the mire.