Drug cheats have no place in sport

It really is just not a game any more. With effect from the 15th of this month until possibly eight years later, Olympic champion Justin Gatlin will be having nothing competitive to do with the world of track and field, the world that gave him the world on a silver plate after he garnered gold at the Games of the XXVIIIth Olympiad. I am saying until possibly eight years later because exactly how long the American’s ban will be will be decided by an arbitration panel.

But, dear Mr Banda, you are just talking about the man serving a ban without telling us what he has been banned for. What sort of storytelling is that?

Alright, alright, my friends. In April this year, at the Kansas Relays in the United States, Gatlin tested positive for the male sex hormone testosterone, which is also responsible for building muscle. The 24-year-old said he did not know how it came to be that the test came out the way it did. Oh, yeah! Just consider this, Dear Reader: you have been eating blue sherbet. We ask you to show us your tongue. We then exclaim that your tongue is not the normal colour. Does our observation surprise you? I cannot stand the stuff myself, but a friend who enjoys it pointed out that the only bit he does not like is when he answers the call of nature after eating it. He says after eating asparagus, there is an unmistakeable stink in his urine. If that is scientific, would we expect someone who has eaten the vegetable to then run to their doctor screaming that there is something wrong with their urine? No, sir, definitely not.

There you go again, Mr Banda, wandering and meandering as you are wont to do ‘ Sunday in, Sunday out.

Alright, alright. I was talking about Justin Gatlin and his positive drugs test. Now, note that this is, in fact, the second positive test for the man, following another in 2001. Then he was suspended for two years but after he successfully pointed out that the amphetamine he tested positive for then was contained in medication he had been taking for 10 years for an attention-deficit disorder, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) accepted that the man had not intentionally committed a doping violation. It reinstated him after one year.

Under anti-doping rules, a second positive test draws the potential of a life ban. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was quoted on Tuesday as saying that the circumstances of Gatlin’s first offence put the violation in a “unique category”. Oh, yeah!

Some data on Mr Gatlin: the American is a joint holder of the global 100 metres standard with Jamaica’s Asafa Powell. They have both stopped the clock at 9,77 seconds. Unless his ban is overturned by the arbitration panel, Gatlin will lose his part of the world 100m record.

Gatlin’s coach: Trevor Graham.

If, although I would love to write “when”, he loses the 100m record because of the doping violation, Gatlin will become the second American to do so after Tim Montgomery had his 2002 figure of 9,78 seconds erased when he was banned in 2005 in the Bay Arena Laboratory Company (BALCO) scandal.

Tim who? You read correctly. Montgomery. The one who has a son with Marion Jones. Marion who? Hold it, Mr Banda, is she not in the news herself over drugs?

That is right, my friends. On Monday, Ms Jones expressed shock that the initial test of her urine sample taken in June was positive. It was positive for the blood-boosting synthetic hormone erythropoietin (EPO). Jones requested for the speedy testing of the second sample, pointing out that she would not comment further until the result of that “B” sample is out. Shock . . . Marion? Oh, yeah! If the second sample is positive, the 30-year-old faces a minimum two-year ban.

Some data on Ms Jones: she won five Olympic medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, with gold gongs in the 100 and 200-metres sprints and the 4×400 metres relay.

Jones’ coach: Trevor Graham.

There are at least five other athletes trained by Graham who have been charged with doping offences. He is himself under investigation by the IAAF and USADA.

There are several other American sportspeople under investigation for illegal drug use. Not all of them are from track and field. You may not have heard of Kelli White. What about Barry Bonds, of that American obsession otherwise called baseball? Or Floyd Landis, the winner of that cycling Tour de Turmoil otherwise called the Tour de France?

He may soon be the non-champion, if he is disrobed for having tested positive for testosterone. If, and again the temptation is overwhelming to say “when”, he is stripped of the title, Landis would become the first winner in the 103-year history of cycling’s blue-riband event to suffer the ignominy.

Landis had nearly three times the amount of testosterone the average man is expected to produce naturally. And some of his was synthetically manufactured.

The man said he does not know how it came to be that his test came out the way it did. Sherbet? Asparagus? However, the world knows that, after falling more than eight minutes behind during the previous stage, he produced one of the greatest solo rides in the history of cycling’s biggest race to win the 17th stage of the Tour de France.

Landis’ team, Phonak, fired him after his “B” sample tested positive for testosterone.

I say that is what the sporting world should do to any sportsperson who tests positive for illegal drug use. There has been talk of raising the mandatory ban to four years, but I say no. Take the cheats out of the sport. Young people go to the field of play or watch television, listen to the radio or read about their heroes and heroines. They look up to these athletes. These people are their role models. These people are their examples. These people send out the empowering message of possibility; that it is possible for any one to be some one. Then one of these people tests positive. They were cheating! They were not any one! I am sorry, Ma, it cannot be done fairly.

I can stand a lot, but I cannot stand anyone who deprives the young of hope.

The process should be tightened. An initial sample is positive. The second sample is tested. If that too is positive, then the athlete goes home. For good. This appeal business has spawned another business. Jones is being represented by Howard Jacobs, who has represented several American athletes in similar cases, among them Montgomery. The land of divorce lawyers has brought forth another professional.

Instead of the age-old adage of who does the crime does the time, for doping offenders it should be: if we find you out, we kick you out. Period.

August 2006
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