WHY IS THE WORLD’S ANTI-DOPING AGENCY THREATENING TO SUSPEND RUSSIA’S OLYMPIC DRUG-TESTING LAB?
Q: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has provisionally suspended the Moscow Antidoping Center, saying its operations must improve or a six-month ban on the facility’s accreditation will be imposed. They’re also recommending longer bans on athletes who fall foul of drug-testers. What’s all that about?
A: WADA is a kind of service provider for sport’s governing organizations around the world and it regularly checks that its accredited labs are working adequately. If labs are deemed what they call “non-compliant” with WADA’s standards they can have their accreditation revoked. WADA obviously isn’t satisfied that the Russians are as rigorous as they should be when it comes to dope testing.
Q: Weren’t the Jamaicans recently singled out by WADA too?
A: Yes, WADA officials visited Jamaica after several high profile athletes, including former world 100 metres record holder Asafa Powell returned positive drug samples. Dr Paul Wright, Jamaica’s most senior drug tester said somewhat ominously that the country’s recent rash of failed tests might be the “tip of an iceberg”.
Q: Anywhere else?
A: Kenya. WADA said it “very frustrated” by the apparent lack of progress in Kenya. 12 months ago, the Kenya’s government and Olympic federation were considering a task force to investigate allegations of a doping culture in their set-up, but there’s little sign of progress.
Q: Could these countries be suspended from Olympic and other international competitions?
A: Theoretically, yes. But Jamaica dominates the sprint events and Kenya middle-distance running. Russia is strong across the whole spectrum of track and field events. So any athletics meeting would miss them: imagine staging an event without Usain Bolt, David Rudisha or Yelena Isinbayeva.
Q: But if drug-testers really mean business and they kicked those countries out, what would happen?
A: For a start, the television companies would point out that the events would be devalued in their eyes. They wouldn’t attract so many viewers and advertisers would turn away. Then, of course, the big sponsors, like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Cisco, would complain that their international exposure would be lessened if tv companies lost interest.
Q: But surely the commercial sponsors are at least partly behind the antidrugs policies. After all, they want their products or brands associated with a pursuit that’s all about purity, wholesomeness and goodness. No sport in the world would risk putting them off by going soft on doping.
A: Sponsors rarely say much about this, but it makes sense to believe that many sports governing organizations go to great pains to keep their sponsors sweet. Together with media money, the sponsors’ millions make up the lion’s share of sport’s revenue.
Q: Let me get this straight: are you saying that sponsors are behind antidrugs policies because they wouldn’t want their brands connected with “drugs,” however indirectly?
A: Obviously, you couldn’t prove that, but it makes sense. And you’re beginning to see the paradox: if sport got even more draconian and suspended whole nations, like Russia or Jamaica, from international competition, the corporate sponsors would probably pull their money out anyway.
Q: It is indeed a paradox in the sense that it leads to a conclusion that’s illogical and senseless. So what will sport do?
A: Basically, try to maintain a vigilant watch on sport, but without taking out the big names that bring in the money from the media and sponsors. It’s quite a balancing act.
Q: Does anybody really care if sprinters, cyclists, swimmers, baseball players or whatever are using dope? I mean, we know nothing about whether they are using hypnotists or sleeping in oxygenated tents, or training at high altitude and so on. So if we didn’t know, would it matter?
A: Good question.