POSTED: January 24th 2018

JOHN GOODBODY: Longo's defeat is a crucial success in the drugs war

Jeannie Longo rides her cycle before withdrawing the French cycling championship women road race category on June 22, 2013 in Lannilis, western France © Getty Images
Jeannie Longo rides her cycle before withdrawing the French cycling championship women road race category on June 22, 2013 in Lannilis, western France © Getty Images

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

(SFC) Jeannie Longo is a person of particular persistence. The Frenchwoman, now 59 years-old, has had a cycling career remarkable for both success and longevity with four Olympic medals, including gold in the road race in 1996, as well as 13 world and an extraordinary 59 French titles.

Even at the age of 49, she was fiercely competitive internationally, when competing at her seventh Olympics, she finished only 33 seconds behind Britain's Nicole Cooke, who was only one years-old when Longo was competing in her first Games.

Longo has had difficulties with the doping officials. She had a brief suspension for testing positive for ephedrine following an attempt at the 3 kms world record in Colorado. According to L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, her husband, Patrice Ciprelli also allegedly bought epo from China which he insisted was his own use but not for Longo herself.

In 2011, she was facing a further ban following three whereabouts violations although she successfully argued that the French authorities had not told her that she was still on the anti-doping programme and therefore liable to be tested.

She has been vexed that her inclusion on such a programme for out-of-competition testing was "a serious and repeated branch of privacy" and has received some heavyweight support in her legal campaign. The French national sports unions of basketball, football, handball and rugby union joined her in the appeal process.

Team games have often been reluctant to embrace drug-testing, partly because they believe that for their players, many of whom are household names, it is unnecessarily intrusive for them to be available to give urine and blood samples at their homes. Sepp Blatter, the now disgraced Fifa president, described such a process before his fall as a "witch-hunt." But then, as the renowned British football writer, Brian Glanville, memorably said many years ago: "Blatter has 10 ideas every day, 11 of them bad."

Having been unable to get satisfaction from the French Supreme Court, Longo and the governing bodies took their case to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, citing Article Eight of the European Convention, which deals with "respect for private and family life."

If the Court had upheld the appeal, it would have thrown the global programme of anti-doping into chaos. It is fundamental to what is known as the Adams (Anti-Doping Administration System) that competitors can be available for unannounced testing during a period of one hour, which the individuals or their representatives designate, every day of the year.

To catch people taking hormone drugs in particular, it is essential that competitors must not know exactly when or where they will be tested, otherwise some may try to avoid the sampling or even sabotage the practice.

Fortunately, the Court ruled against the appeal, saying: "Taking account of the impact of the whereabouts requirements on the applicants' private life, the Court nevertheless takes the view that the public interest grounds, which made it necessary , were of particular  importance and justified the restrictions imposed on their Article Eight rights.

"It found the reduction or removal of the relevant  obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control."

This decision is one of immense importance and the relief of organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency will be considerable. Longo, as her cycling career demonstrates, is not one to give up easily and she and the myopic organisations, who have joined her in this campaign, may well appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights. Let us hope fervently they do not succeed.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th 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.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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