POSTED: November 3rd 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Moves towards making drug-taking a crime

Is it worth it? / Bigstock
Is it worth it? / Bigstock

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

(SFC) The efforts to punish drug-taking in sport have been unremitting. But still competitors continue to risk their reputations and sometimes their health for money or glory and often both. Despite all the well-meaning attempts by organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the practice shows no sign of diminishing, so ruining the dreams of other clean athletes.

Lord Colin Moynihan, a former Minister for Sport and chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), has been a determined advocate of stiffer penalties for drug-takers in sport for more than 30 years.  He is seeking to criminalise such people and line up British legislation with that in some other European countries, such as France and Italy.

Lord Moynihan wants primary legislation to make it an offence, punishable by law, to take drugs. He recently told the House of Lords in London: "The fact is that intentional doping in sport remains the worst crime an athlete can commit. It is cheating and those who knowingly cheat have no place competing in the world of sport; let alone being selected to represent their country. Why? Because they have defrauded a clean athlete not only of selection but out of their career. They shred the dreams of clean athletes with every needle they inject."

He is now planning to introduce a new measure to cover sports fraud when the U.K. Parliament considers the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill. This would be aimed at serious drugs offenders, currently embracing those liable for a ban of four years, and also those people in the entourage of the athlete, such as coaches, agents and medical staff.

His proposals were welcomed by Tracey Crouch, the current British Minister for Sport, who told The Sunday Times in London:  "This is a really interesting idea. There are international examples of this taking place but it is an idea that does need to be explored further."

Equally significantly, David Howman, the outgoing director general of the Wada, told a conference in Australia: "The real deterrent cheating athletes fear is the fear of going to prison."

However, there are those, who believe that such a law is disproportionate and Lord Sebastian Coe, Moynihan's successor as BOA chairman and also President of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), thinks that the recent increase of a ban for a serious offence from two to four years is more appropriate.

A four year suspension, which only previously had been applied on a regular basis by the International Weightlifting Federation, is after all a major chunk out of any athlete's career, especially as it is accompanied by a ban from one Olympic Games.

 One could see sportsmen and women claiming in court that by being subjected to criminal proceedings as well as a suspension for a drugs offence, they are being punished twice for the same offence.

This was the argument that the Wada itself used when Lord Moynihan was championing the banning by the BOA of the bylaw that any Briton found guilty of a serious drugs offence could not subsequently be selected for the Olympics.

The obstructive machinations of the British Parliament are often difficult to overcome and Lord Moynihan will need Government backing to have a chance of getting his proposal through. When he was Minister, he failed in his praiseworthy attempt to make it a criminal offence to possess (rather than just to sell) hormone drugs.

 If Lord Moynihan does succeed this time, then it will send out a clear message to the rest of the world that another leading European country is making a determined stand to take strong action.

** 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 · Olympics · John Goodbody

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