POSTED: October 15th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: Jamaica must be totally open on drugs to ensure credibility

Asafa Powell taking the lead at World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka  / Eckhard Pecher
Asafa Powell taking the lead at World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka / Eckhard Pecher

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

(SFC) We have been here before. The International Cycling Union, at the very least, failed to look sufficiently carefully at the sport’s doping programme and allowed American Lance Armstrong to finish first in the Tour de France on seven successive occasions. As a result, the sport has been held up for ridicule and it will be some time before its integrity can be restored under its new President Brian Cookson.

The problem is that all governing bodies, whether national or international, need star athletes, such as Armstrong, to give them a profile, to help raise sponsorship, to get television contracts, to draw crowds and to inspire more people to take up their sport.

What was true of Armstrong, who opened up the whole American market to cycling, a sport that has never been mainstream in the United States, is equally true of Usain Bolt in athletics. For the last five years, the Jamaican sprinter has not just been the most famous runner in the world, he has also been a figure of global popularity, probably unequalled in the history of the core sport of the Olympics.

However, in Jamaica, there have been a series of positive drug tests in recent years that has given rise to suspicions over Bolt, despite the fact that the winner of six Olympic titles had never tested positive and there has never been any rumours about him, as, for instance, there were about Ben Johnson before his fall from grace at the 1988 Olympics.

One of Bolt’s leading rivals, Asafa Powell, the former world 100 metres record-holder, and his fellow Jamaicans Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson, both of whom won medals at the 2012 Olympics, have been found positive since those Games.

Now comes the claims from Renee Anne Shirley, the former executive director of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO), that there was almost no out-of-competition testing in the six months before the 2012 Olympics, a period when hormone drugs, in particular, might have been used .

 Her statement has been supported by David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who has confirmed there was “no testing” in the five or six months before London.

Dr Herb Eliott, the Jadco chairman, has described Shirley as “a bit demented”  but this has not impressed the Wada, who has decided to carry out an “extraordinary audit” on doping on the Caribbean island, where so many great sprinters have been born and made.

It is true that the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) did conduct out-of-competition tests in the build-up to the London Games, when Jamaican athletes won 12 medals, including four gold, with Bolt, himself, having to give samples on 12 occasions. However, this is not the point.

The Jamaica Athletics Administration Association, the national governing body, has already been questioned about the fact that it has cleared Veronica Campbell-Brown, its most decorated female sprinter, for taking a diuretic earlier this year. It ruled that the substance was not performancing enhancing, although it could have been used to mask the use of other drugs. The IAAF is now expected to challenge that verdict.

Jamaica needs to know that it has to be beyond any possible reproach. The Wada  investigation will not take place until next year because Jadco is not allowing any earlier access.

 “That”, says Howman, “does not overly impress us.” It does not impress many people.  And Jamaica should do something about it very quickly indeed.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th 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 · Jamaica · doping · WADA · Usain Bolt · Lance Armstrong

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