A need for WADA to evolve
This is the second in a series of articles looking at adverse analytical findings - sanctions and remedies. The first, 'The whispers of cynics', was published last Thursday, and the next will appear on Sunday, October 20.
A group of primary-school children opened my eyes to a stark reality this week. Four of them sat together as a team on a popular Jamaican TV quiz show last week. They were going well in a section of the quiz where speed was an asset. Then the quizmaster asked, "Which Jamaican held the 100 metre world record before Usain Bolt?"
These little innocents declined even to try to answer. Their expressions told the tale. They simply didn't know.
I was shocked. It got worse when the same team easily answered the next several questions, some of them quite difficult. Even if you make an allowance for their youth, it's been regularly repeated that Asafa Powell is the right answer to the question.
Adult memories are probably better, but there aren't too many who remember Asafa brought the world record here for the first time in our history in 2005 with his Athens run of 9.77, and lowered it in 2007 to 9.74 seconds. Yet, everyone knows that Asafa, like Sherone Simpson, is fighting to preserve his good name. Through well-documented circumstances, this fast pair must prove their innocence after adverse analytical findings.
need for WADA
One detail of this case shows the need for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code to evolve. The substance that tripped up Asafa and Sherone is reportedly allowed for use in practice but not in competition. I don't know about you, but that's a mind-bender for me.
Presumably, it was ingested as a supplement. Big names like Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix have said they don't take nutritional supplements, but most athletes do. After all, they push their bodies harder than the rest of us.
That's where logic ends. Asafa and Sherone walked off a cliff edge when they took the supplement too close to their races at the National Championships. Had they been tested a few days earlier, they would have been safe.
The WADA code should be a guide for athletes around and away from these hazards, and not just for the athletes' sake. The competitors do have the responsibility for what goes into their bodies but they need help. It's so complicated that old hands like Asafa, Sherone, Veronica Campbell-Brown and the Jamaica Football Federation team doctor can theoretically make mistakes.
The code must be robust enough to ferret out cheats. Those 'bandoloos' trick us into believing that they are better than they really are. They rob their competitors and the fans of the athletic truth and deserve sanction and eventual expulsion from the sport. Even if we discover their transgressions later, the true winners can never regain their moment in the spotlight.
However, when innocents get caught in the cross hairs of unclear regulations, the whole sport suffers. That ruins more than individual reputations. It ruins the sport.
The Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission needs to do more than increase the number of random tests it does. It also needs to expand its education programmes. Perhaps there should be quarterly seminars on anti-doping with an emphasis on what athletes can use. In this area, ignorance isn't bliss.
Sadly, increased testing and intensified education won't be enough. On top of those important measures is the need for an approved list of substances athletes can take. That's a concept I've borrowed from former national hockey player Andrea Stephenson.
The evolved WADA would test and certify supplements in the way the Food and Drug Administration does food and medicines in the USA. Those that meet WADA's requirements would be approved. This would protect the sport from the unnecessary stress of inadvertent positive tests.
Without that, the mix of measures will be fall short. The more people are bamboozled by the complexity of the banned list, the more sport's reputation will be battered. Good people will suffer, like Asafa's world records will be forgotten, too, if the WADA code doesn't evolve soon.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.