POSTED: May 2nd 2012

JOHN GOODBODY: The WADA is the real loser in the Olympics eligibility case

BOA chairman, Lord Moynihan, went to bat for stronger sanctions / BOA
BOA chairman, Lord Moynihan, went to bat for stronger sanctions / BOA

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: British sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar may possibly win medals in the London Olympics as a result of the verdict of the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) to allow them to compete but the real loser in the case is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This body, which should be constantly campaigning for drug-free sport, has lost considerable credibility, with Lord Colin Moynihan, the Chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), rightly pointing out that it was a “hollow victory.” The BOA has simply just carried out what most of its competitors have wanted for almost 20 years – having a bylaw stating that all athletes guilty of a serious drugs offence should be ineligible from taking part in all future Games.

The BOA has occupied the moral high ground in this debate and will now continue to press for changes in the WADA Code through the review, which is currently taking place. Of course, the WADA felt bound to take the case to the CAS, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lost its own case at the CAS in trying to bar any competitor, who had been given a suspension of more than six months, from taking part in the next Games, irrespective of whether he or she had finished her suspension.     

However, the WADA has known for years of the BOA’s bylaw, with Dick Pound, its former chairman and himself a lawyer, often questioning whether it would withstand legal scrutiny. However, the WADA had reassured the BOA that its bylaw was compliant with its Code, until the IOC lost its case.

What the WADA should have previously done is to ensure that the Code allowed for individual countries to have such a regulation, should they so wish, thereby emphasising the WADA’s commitment to drug-free sport. Of course, almost all other countries have not had this eligibility regulation. However, for those who point to the case for harmonisation of sanctions (a worthy motive), one only has to look at the International Weightlifting Federation (FIH), where 28 of the 32 competitors penalised in 2011 received four year bans, not the two years for a first violation for a serious offence as laid out in the WADA code clause 10.2.

Interestingly the FIH points out: ”The primary argument in favour of harmonisation is that it is simply not right that two athletes from the same country, who test positive for the same prohibited substance should receive different sanctions only because they participate in different sports.” Legally, as we have seen in cases in other sports in Germany and Switzerland, two years is probably sustainable but not more. Probably the reason why the FIH see fit to have such a widespread four year suspension is that it knows most weightlifters can scarcely afford to buy the necessary litres of milk for their diet let alone expensive lawyers to challenge their ban. Footballers might be rather different.

As the WADA is now conducting its much-needed review, it will, of course, be reluctant to accept the clamour for a four-year ban across all sports because it may not be legally sustainable in many countries. However, what might be acceptable legally and could be included in the Code is an additional suspension for at least one Olympics, and conceivably all future Games. This would allow professional athletes, guilty of a serious drugs offence, to earn their living in other meetings but would stop them from taking part in the Olympics, in which, of course, they are not paid prize money.

The BOA and also the IOC may have lost the latest battles at the CAS but they may end up winning the war.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · WADA · CAS · IOC · doping · BOA

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