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EDITORIAL - Too lenient with Gay

Published:Monday | July 28, 2014 | 7:00 AM

This newspaper shares Usain Bolt's concern over the leniency of the punishment given to the US sprinter, Tyson Gay, for his drug cheating, although not necessarily agreeing with the specific comparisons that informed his position. Our worry, in the face of recent events, is that the Gay ruling may be a confirmation of a softening of the vigilance against drugs in sports, as an unwitting consequence of recent actions by some who arbitrate on athletes' behaviour.

Tyson Gay tested positive for use of steroids, which, as we understand it, is considered to be in the top-tier of cheating in international athletics. As a first-time offender, Gay would be liable to an automatic suspension of up to two years. Gay was given a one-year suspension by the US athletic authorities, which coincided with the period of automatic suspension before his case was heard.

Under IAAF rules, so far as we understand them, reduced suspension is normally in the event of substantial mitigating circumstances when an athlete uses a prohibited substance, and the fact that the use of the substance was not with the intent of enhancing performance or masking the use of a prohibited drug.

"This article only applies to those circumstances where the hearing panel is comfortably satisfied by the objective circumstances of the case that the athlete in taking the prohibited substance did not intend to enhance his sport performance," according to the IAAF's rule 40.4 that deals with the issue.

On the face of it, ex post facto actions by the athlete do not qualify as the kind of extraordinary circumstance on which an athlete could rely for mitigation. Indeed, this approach was applied by the IAAF review panel in the Veronica Campbell-Brown case for the use of a diuretic, when it overturned a reprimand by a Jamaican tribunal and imposed a two-year automatic suspension. That suspension was overturned by the Court for Arbitration in Sports (CAS), but not on the basis that special circumstances existed to vary the sentence. Rather, the court held that the process by which Campbell-Brown's urine was taken was flawed and unreliable. In the event, an anti-doping violation did not exist.

In Tyson Gay's case, his collaboration with the US authorities in his drug case was deemed of sufficient value so as to soften the penalty he received, although what specifically he offered to investigators and how that will impact on the use of drug in sports is yet to be disclosed. The IAAF was satisfied with that decision. They did not review the Gay ruling.

There is a potentially larger consequence to this affair, to which Usain Bolt referred.

He said: "I think it is sending a bad message into the sport that you can do it (dope), but if you cooperate with us, we'll reduce the sentence."

Bolt's warning should also resonate with the CAS, which should be careful when, in its effort to send signals to errant national drug-testing agencies, and attempting to rest its findings on more than broad principles, it applies statistics to fit the facts in a fashion that, though possible, over-exercises if not boggles the imagination.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.