POSTED: June 15th 2010

NEIL WILSON: Anti-doping justice must work both ways to work at all

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Jun 15: A simple philosophy has always held sway in the drug-testing world: Athletes may make mistakes but laboratories never do. Jacques de Ceaurriz, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Paris, once famously said of the carbon isotope test that underpins global analysis: “It’s foolproof – no error is possible in isotopic readings.”

No science, of course, is foolproof and certainly not the humans who conduct the science.  Accredited laboratories do make mistakes. They just don’t like to admit it for fear of under-mining faith in the system.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reminded us of its fallibility again this month by restoring the standing as Olympic medallists of Belorusian hammer throwers Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan when it allowed their appeals against the findings of the WADA-accredited lab in Beijing.

CAS made a point in its adjudication that it was not saying that the athletes were above suspicion. What it found was a laboratory’s failure to conduct its tests, its documentation and its reporting in the manner which WADA’s rules demand.

What are we to make of a laboratory which found only nine positives at the 2008 Olympics and has been shown now to have conducted them wrongly in more than 20pc of those? 

That a laboratory, like an athlete, can make mistakes. The International Olympic Committee says it may appeal against the finding.

Better that it remembers the case of Allan Baxter, the Scottish skier who used a US-manufactured nasal inhaler instead of his usual European-manufactured inhaler and was made by the IOC to pay for his innocent mistake with the loss of his Olympic medal?

Important issue

An example was made of him, and the IOC and WADA should make an example of the Beijing laboratory with a similar suspension.

The case raises an important issue in another case. One of Beijing’s sins, according to CAS, was to allow the same analyst to conduct the tests on the A and B samples, which is strictly against the rules.

So why, may I ask, does CAS, the IAAF, UK Sport and UK Athletics continue to support the lifetime suspension of British shot putter Paul Edwards whose 1997 test by the WADA-accredited lab in London was conducted similarly by a single analyst?

Incredibly, 10 years after the life-ban was imposed, Edwards continues to campaign on his own behalf at his own expense.

Every eminent scientist who has examined the 600 pages of evidence supports his conclusion that the analysis was flawed. In particular, they point to the laboratory’s own documentation showing A and B conducted by a single analyst.

The case continues. The Commissioner responsible for Freedom of Information is considering Edwards’s appeal against the laboratory’s refusal to release the calibration documentation which scientists on his side believe would prove his case beyond doubt. A verdict is expected this month.

Athletes, under WADA’s rules, are regarded as guilty after a positive analysis until they prove their innocence. Why should it be any different when laboratories make mistakes?

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books

Keywords · Neil Wilson · WADA · Paul Edwards · Allan Baxter · CAS

For more information contact:
Laura Walden ()

All original materials contained in this section are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Sports Features Communications, Inc the owner of that content. It is prohibited to alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.