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Editorial: Why Russia deserves natural justice

Published:Wednesday | November 11, 2015 | 12:00 AM

There may be systemic doping in Russian sports. Jamaica, however, should be wary of climbing on to the bandwagon for the wholesale banning of their athletes from international games, as promoted by Dick Pound and embraced by others.

Two things are important. First, natural justice demands that the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) be given a fair hearing and opportunity to clear its name, as has been demanded by its interim head, Vadim Zelichenok. Then, people ought not to forget that not so long ago, a similar Damoclean sword of athletics exclusion was being swung over Jamaica. Among the instigators was the very same Dick Pound.

Pound is a former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) who was been suspicious of Jamaica's emergence as a global athletics power, especially after the country's heroics at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. After London 2012, he publicly reprised his doubts that a small country of three million people could produce so many world-beaters in the face of Anne Shirley's claims about weaknesses in Jamaica's anti-doping programme.

It was Pound's claim that Jamaican athletes were difficult to find for testing. The logical assumption was, they were doping. And, perhaps, in hiding. In the face of these suggestions, even as the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission moved to fix problems, there were the voices promoting a ban, including from next year's Olympics in Rio.

Pound recently headed a WADA group that investigated reports from a German television channel of widespread and state-supported drug cheating and corruption in Russian athletics. They have endorsed the channel's findings. So, Pound has talked of suspending ARAF until it cleans up.

Insofar as we are aware, these remain allegations that ought to be fully ventilated by members of the IAAF and not be subject to pre-emptive action, to which the federation's chief, Sebastian Coe, in the face of pressure from some members, seems increasingly susceptible.

 

Precipitate action

 

We are concerned that a presumption of systemic guilt in doping is coloured by ideology and race, or, at least, a country's level of development, while people hide behind the parapet of principle. So Ed Warner, the head of UK Athletics, declared: "If you punish one or two innocent Russian athletes for the good of the sport, that is a moral dilemma I am willing to grasp."

Except that while Warner accepts that there are drug cheats in many countries, there was not systemic doping in Western countries. Which, perhaps, is true if the problem is narrowly defined to mean government involvement and not extensive private interests, as was exemplified by Balco, or the kinds of systems that facilitated Lance Armstrong.

Another reason why Jamaican sports authorities must be careful against precipitate action in the Russian issue, and a further indication of where any such move could head, is the remark by the former English sprinter Darren Campbell.

He said: "There are people talking about testing out in Kenya and Jamaica. We can't have rumours anymore." The implication is clear. Jamaica and its athletes remain in the scope of the doubters.

If Russian athletes cheat, they must pay the penalty. If their system is corrupt, they must pay the penalty. But natural justice must prevail. For only when it is afforded to everyone can Jamaica insist upon justice for itself.