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Sports Law- Drugs in Athletics / Disciplinary action in Sports

Drugs in Athletics / Disciplinary action in Sports

So, the latest big name in the athletics world to be tarred with the broad brush of accusations of doping is London 2012 golden boy Mo Farah. For me, the place to start is to make the punishment for missing tests as harsh as the punishment for failing them.

Between 2005 and 2006, Christine Ohuruogo missed 3 drug tests. She was given a year's ban and returned to compete at the 2007 World Championships. She was allowed to compete at the 2012 games and eventually won a Silver medal in the 400m.

Contrast this with Dwain Chambers, who tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs in 2003 and later admitted that he had been taking a number of substances from 2002 up until he passed 4 tests in late 2005/ early 2006 in order to be allowed to return to competing. Chambers was subsequently banned from the 2008 Olympics (where Ohoruogo won a gold), and there was a significant clamour to have him banned from the 2012 version too - to have him there, and maybe even winning a medal, would be seen as embarrassment for British athletics, it appeared. Eventually, banning him from London 2012 was ruled to be illegal and he got to the semi-final of the 100m.

We are seeing a similar landslide of public opinion with Justin Gatlin at the moment. Gatlin was banned from 2006 to 2010 for taking banned substances, and also returned to compete at the 2012 Olympics and won a bronze in the 100m. As with Chambers, Gatlin's attitude, no doubt coupled with the fact that he had already served another ban from 2001 to 2003, counted against him in the court of public opinion, but even now 5 years after he returned, people have been going apoplectic about the idea that Gatlin should be awarded a sponsorship deal with Nike. Christine Ohuruogo, meanwhile, has a lucrative deal of her own with Virgin which no one appears to have questioned, and amongst other accolades was named Sportswoman of the Year in 2013 by Sky and the Sunday Times.

I'm not suggesting that Ohuruogo has ever taken any banned substances. But the message that the way she was treated risks sending out is 'you're much better off missing a test than taking it if you think you're going to fail'.

The excuse for Ohoruogo seems to be that she 'served her time', but when the same logic is applied to the likes of Chambers and Gatlin it only ever appears to be done so grudgingly. The general consensus from the great and the good of athletics seems to be that the ideal would be to ban these people for life (and maybe that's correct) and 'if only that were possible'.

Sport is an objective field. The person who runs fastest, throws the furthest, etc, wins - assuming of course, that they have done so within the rules.

Outside of drug testing/ taking, we saw the same with on-the-pitch indiscipline when Alan Shearer threatened to pull out of World Cup ‘98 if the FA punished him appropriately for kicking Neil Lennon in the face. Again, the disciplinary process was seen to be easily manipulated by the 'national interest', and the press. As with Ohoruogo's ban, Shearer's actions at that time have been long forgotten.

What is the proper punishment for drugs cheats in sport? SURELY it needs to be the case that if you miss a test - you need to be treated the same as if you have failed one.

That's the way to start tackling the problem head on. And then, sport needs to have the courage of its convictions that if someone with a good image, a good PR firm, and who an expensive media campaign has been built around falls foul of the rules, they suffer the consequences.

We need to decide what the punishment is and we need to apply it across the board. And if the decision is a life ban, and someone like Ohoruogo gets caught up in that, I'm afraid that's the decision that has been made. If people want to talk tough then they need to accept the consequences.

John Spyrou


Pinder Reaux & Associates