TYPICALLY, summer Olympic sports spend $1.2 billion between them every four years on untold thousands of drug tests, but less than 1 per cent of them return what is coyly described as a ”meaningful result”. In la-la land, this means that sport’s drug squad is winning the war. In the real world, it means that drug cheats are.
This year, Lance Armstrong, the biggest cheat of all, was caught not by testing but after being confronted with a painstakingly gathered body of forensic and circumstantial evidence. Before Armstrong, Marion Jones, darling of Sydney 2000, was fingered the same way. Over and over, they had tested clean.
Subliminally, this raises a question: what was and is the World Anti-Doping Agency doing? Even before Armstrong, WADA had started to second-guess its own efficacy, admitting to ”ineffectiveness”. A group chaired by former outspoken WADA chairman Dick Pound currently is reviewing its workings.
Moreover, doctors around the world have questioned WADA’s list of banned substances – which is the alpha list for all sports – saying it features many substances that are not demonstrably performance enhancing, or are falsely held to be performance enhancing, or are impossible to test reliably anyway.
Science is not perfect, nor immutable. One Australian doctor says the list includes items that should be recognised as valid treatments for injury, and so is self-defeating.
WADA’s list is also under critical self-review. A new, modernised code is expected to be approved at a four-yearly conference on drugs in sport in Johannesburg in November.
But dissatisfaction with WADA among sportsfolk simmers. In the light of the Armstrong case, WADA and the International Cycling Union quarrelled bitterly. Other sports chimed in. In May, the IOC will convene a summit to try to ease some of these tensions. Presumably, there will be plenty of Stilnox on hand.
Meantime, UNIS Pro Sports, claiming to represent 100,000 athletes worldwide, has accused WADA of ”mediocrity and lack of accountability”, and of failing to protect clean athletes.
Post-Armstrong, an international groundswell is apparent, intent on outflanking drugs cheats from a new direction. Australia finds itself in the vanguard of the movement, perhaps as trailblazer, perhaps as guinea pig. This year will tell.
Following the Australian Crime Commission’s damning report on the extent of corruption in Australian sport, the federal government moved swiftly to beef up the powers of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
Specifically, it proposed to give ASADA what are loosely and sinisterly termed ”coercive powers”, the better to build a cogent case against a drug cheat in the absence of a telltale test result, the way USADA pinned Armstrong.
But the legislation is controversial, to say the least. In submissions to a Senate hearing, athletes and law bodies vehemently oppose the new powers, saying they are too sweeping and draconian. They say they would invert the burden of proof and oblige athletes to self-incriminate, two legal no-nos.
They also say that WADA’s new powers provide for even less accountability than those of the ACC and the Federal Police, infringe human rights and would infringe a Bill of Rights, if Australia had one. Athletes particularly object to the stringency of the new provisions, for instance, that each day an athlete failed to comply with an order issued by ASADA would constitute a new offence.
The AOC supports the fortified powers for ASADA, and goes further, urging the government to criminalise non-co-operation. It says the proposed penalty, essentially a $5000 fine, is a negligible punishment in this big-money era.
The ACC also is a supporter of the legislation, saying that it is a crime-fighting agency, that doping in sport, though reprehensible, is not a crime and that sport must be fully empowered to fight its own battles. Catherine Ordway, a lawyer who has worked in anti-doping all over the world, is even more adamant, saying ASADA should be given powers of ”search and siezure”, and that cheating should be criminalised.
All say that the possibility of self-recrimination is not germane because, as is the case for the ACC, none of what ASADA discovers via coercive powers would be admissible in a criminal or civil prosecution. It would be to help to form a picture.
In these pages on Sunday, Olympic rower and law student James Marburg lucidly described the extent to which even the humblest athletes forswear everyday liberties to oblige drug-testers. Acutely conscious of a greater cause, most submit to these indignities without demur.
Under a revamped WADA, they would have to bare themselves still further, until some must wonder which of disease and cure was worse.
As the war on performance-enhancing drugs moves from laboratory to interrogation room, this suggests a reworking of a recently infamous slogan, now a question: Is this the whatever that it takes?
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