Doping suspensions

Within Wellington Scottish we are lucky to have several hard-working, knowledgeable, and highly qualified officials.  Two of them are Alan Stevens and David Lonsdale.  In this regular column, Alan and David put their heads together and answer our questions about the rules of running and walking.  For our latest instalment, Alan tells us about the IAAF’s history of imposing penalties for drug violations, and his own involvement in the effort to keep drug cheats out of the sport.

At the recent World Championships in London, Justin Gatlin was able to compete and win a gold medal, despite his history of doping violations and suspensions. Why was Gatlin allowed to compete? And what penalties can dopers expect to face in the sport today?

Justin Gatlin has been convicted twice of using prohibited substances. In 2001, he was given a two-year ban for using amphetamines, but it was reduced to one year on appeal. Then he was caught using testosterone and banned by the IAAF for eight years. That ban was also reduced on appeal, to four years. Gatlin appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have it further reduced to two years, but he lost. In 2010, his four-year ban ended and he was free to compete again.

Under the complicated rules and processes existing at the time, Gatlin was caught and convicted and served the applicable penalty. I am hopeful that things will change in the future. When dopers are caught, they will face stiffer penalties – and they will also be more likely to be caught in the first place. Shonky chemists will always find chemicals to enhance performances, but thanks to WADA, the testing procedures are quickly catching up.

All international level (and carded NZ) athletes must sign up to a drug-testing protocol. As well as urine tests, blood tests are now routine and they produce a biological passport, which documents the athlete’s bodily functions and levels. If a subsequent test shows a variation, this raises a red flag. All samples are retained for eight years and are retested with the new techniques, and athletes caught are penalised. All athletes must keep their national federation advised of their whereabouts. They are subject to random, unannounced, in or out of competition tests. Many are caught this way.

In the ten months leading in to the World Championships in London, athletes anticipated to be at the Champs were subject to these unannounced tests: 3000 urine and 2000 blood tests were done. Upon arrival in London, 600 blood samples were taken and the biological passports updated. During the Champs 600 urine samples were taken and immediately tested.

In an indication that drug cheats are being caught and punished, there was a reallocation ceremony held in London. Medals were presented to five relay teams and two individuals whose placings had improved when place-getters in previous Champs had been subsequently found to be cheats. You may recall Val Adams and Nick Willis received their correct medals retrospectively.

The history of drug regulation in athletics is chaotic and political. In 1984 I was in New York for the World Cross-Country Champs, to present the case for New Zealand to host a future World Cross-Country. The IAAF president and secretary were distracted by a legal hearing concerning a suspended US athlete. Earlier suspended athletes from wealthy, influential countries had applied for reinstatement and politics saw them granted. Now the IAAF faced large legal bills defending contested cases in the courts.

In 1991 at the IAAF Congress I was a NZ Delegate. Together with Ireland, Canada, and the UK we sponsored a successful motion to introduce an automatic four-year ban – a full Olympic cycle – for doping violations. We were to be world leaders, and hoped that all others, including the International Olympic Committee, would follow. Subsequently Germany, on behalf of their suspended athletes, appealed to the European Court on the grounds that they had been “deprived of their legal rights to earn a living!!” The bloody Court agreed and the IAAF were forced to reinstate the athletes. Many other European member states followed, and then Korea made the same claim. Eventually, I moved a motion at the 1997 IAAF Congress to remove the four-year term and use the newly formed WADA penalties instead.

I attended eleven IAAF Congresses and became more and more cynical with the politics. But under Sebastian Coe the IAAF has started on a huge restructuring. The new Athletics Integrity Unit, with prime responsibility for the drug programme, is headed by a Kiwi, David Howman. David is a former Director General of WADA. The struggle to catch drug cheats and impose meaningful violations continues. It is amazing the countries who should know better. I hope that in future a doping violator like Justin Gatlin will not be able to return to the sport so easily.