IT is safe to say that, despite concerted attempts from
anti-doping authorities over recent years, drugs in sport are not going away. Just last week, news emerged that the World Anti-Doping Authority will not appeal the reduction of the ban which had been handed down to American sprinter Tyson Gay for a doping offence
at the American trials, testing positive for an anabolic steroid.
Initially, the US Anti-Doping Association doled out a two-year
ban, but in May of this year USADA announced that it was being halved because of Gay's substantial cooperation with the authorities.
While the details of what exactly Gay disclosed to the authorities are yet to be released, it is thought that it is likely to be information which would help fight the battle against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The rumour
is that he has disclosed the names
of those who supplied the drugs and has also implicated other dopers.
Gay is a triple world champion and lies second in the all-time list over 100 metres; only Usain Bolt
has run faster. His positive test last year meant that he was banned
from competition from June 23;
his punishment reduction means
he will now be eligible to compete in just a few weeks' time.
The decision to reduce the length of Gay's ban created shock-waves through athletics. At a time
when the sport is experiencing
an unwelcome spate of high-profile athletes testing positive for banned substances, such charitable treatment of a convicted drugs
cheat has not been well received.
Dissent over the reduction has been vocal and unambiguous. From the English marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe branding Gay's ban "too lenient", to Kenyan 1500 metre Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop calling it the "wrong message to send out", athletes appear united
in their unease about sympathetic treatment of the guilty party
in return for the provision of information.
The subject of plea-bargaining is a tricky one. There is a valid argument on both sides of the coin: on the one hand, offering an incentive to dopers to disclose information is a vital tool in finding out more about those who supply the drugs and those who encourage and enable the illegal practices.
On the other hand, a paltry one-year suspension for a doping offence is not so much a punishment as an interruption. A 12-month ban means Gay has missed only one season and will not miss out on
a single Olympic Games. There is something chronically unjust in the arbitrary length of bans when the final decision comes down to
a subjective opinion on how useful the information provided by the doper has been.
The reason for despondency among Gay's peers is obvious. If athletes know that they could have a ban substantially reduced in return for valuable information then it does not seem unfathomable that they would consider doping to be a risk worth taking. And this may just be a sign of things to come.
As of January 1 2015, the revised WADA code comes into effect, stating that there is the possibility for WADA to agree to a convicted doper serving no ban at all if sufficient information is disclosed.
Neither will that convicted
doper necessarily have to return
any of his/her prize money, or pay
any fines or costs, though it is stated that a non-penalty would occur only
in "exceptional circumstances".
It is still widely acknowledged that the dopers are, in the main, ahead of the testers. The anti-doping authorities are trying to clean up sport with a relatively small budget of just a few million pounds while dopers often have considerably more resources at their disposal. As long as athletes continue to believe that being caught taking drugs is still not a certainty then doping will continue and anti-doping authorities must be more creative in how
they go about catching the cheats.
David Howman, WADA's director general, has made the point
that "people sometimes forget
an athlete's entourage cannot
be tested scientifically, so it is important to gather information about their behaviour in other ways". These "other ways" he mentions are focusing less on securing analytical positives
and more on gathering intelligence which can nip doping practices in the bud, resulting in fewer athletes being sucked into this murky world.
While there will always be athletes who are willing to cheat,
the support staff who enable it are the most damaging and more must be done to go after them.
Yet WADA must ensure that they do not go too far in offering
a reprieve to dopers who cooperate; they must always remember that their primary duty is to protect the clean athletes and this will not be done if an athlete can get off without any sanction whatsoever.