Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Orville Higgins | Alarmed by retro drug testing

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 6:00 AM

News broke some time on Wednesday night that one Jamaican has been tested positive, retroactively, having participated in the 2008 Olympics. Up to press time last night, no official announcement was yet made. The usual precautions about waiting on the B sample have been in full force.

Officials at the JAAA, or the Jamaica Olympic Committee, were either not talking or denied knowing anything. I myself must have received maybe about two dozen different calls from persons who wanted to know who. I have heard a name being bandied about, too, but, of course, I wouldn't budge.

The biggest concern from all the Jamaicans that I have spoken to was that it was not Usain Bolt. Bolt being implicated would be too big a pill for us to swallow. It would devastate Jamaicans and would be a huge blow for track and field on a whole, and sprinting in particular. He has become the symbol for not only running superfast, breaking records, left, right and centre, but he has also become a poster boy for being clean.

Bolt's name has not been involved in anything drug-related throughout his stellar career. He remains the one reason why people believe that sprinters, especially, can compete at an exceptionally high level without resorting to illegal substances. If Bolt got implicated, it would take a very long time for the credibility of sprinting to be restored. It would be the biggest sports news of the year. My sources say it isn't Bolt, which is good news, but another Jamaican is in trouble and another dent has been placed in the country's reputation.

I am not as surprised as some are. If we want to be brutally honest, Jamaica is not known for being a country with the greatest of moral standing. In Jamaica, the 'samfie' or 'three-card' man is part of our legacy. Brother Anancy, with all his tricks, could well be said to be our eighth national hero. It's a long-standing joke that if there is anything 'bandooloo' in the world, a Jamaican is probably involved. I don't hold our athletes to higher standards than anybody else. We have corrupt politicians, policemen, business people, etc. Merely because one competes for Jamaica does not mean that one will not yield to the temptation of taking illegal substances to boost performance. I am not one of those Jamaicans who somehow believes our athletes are all clean.

Having said all that, this particular case disturbs me. I am all for punishing athletes when they take drugs that are on a banned list. But this business of retroactively punishing athletes eight years after the fact, however, doesn't rest well with me. Was the drug in question illegal at the time when the athlete supposedly took it? If the answer is yes, the other question is why it wasn't detected.

 

EIGHT-YEAR WAIT FOR RESULTS

 

All of our high-profile athletes go through a series of rigorous tests, especially when they compete in big meets overseas. If the thing was on a banned list at the time it was taken, how come the athlete was not implicated? It does make you realise that athletes who are pronounced as clean now may not be clean after all. Which means that we really have to wait eight to 10 years before celebrating a victory because you never know if a decade down the road, the victory will stand. So at the upcoming Rio Olympics, if we win the 4x100m for men, for example, we shouldn't be too excited. The track commentator should say, "Hold all celebrations until 2024!"

OK, so what if the substance was NOT on the banned list then? What then is the problem? If an athlete took something that was not illegal at the time, why is he being punished now? If an athlete is smart enough to create a concoction to assist him that is not on a banned list, why punish him down the road? I just don't get it.

Meldonium, for example, was not on the banned list at one point but subsequently became illegal. The authorities gave a cut-off date and made it clear that whoever was found with the drug in their system AFTER that date would be implicated. If the drug the Jamaican was caught with went on the banned list after the sample was taken, why should he be punished now? And how can we vouch for the credibility of a sample that was somewhere for eight long years? I'm lost.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.