July 30, 2005

Doping News: No Rules for the Relays?

Although I try to keep up with all the latest news from the fight against doping, I sometimes get a bit bored with it. I'm sure many of you do, too.

Then along comes a juicy story like this one to get me heated up nicely.

After a lengthy appeals process, the CAS has decided that the US 4 × 400m men's relay team can keep their 2000 Olympic gold medals. Well, five of them can. You can read the whole decision here (PDF); it's a complicated case, but I'll give you the summary.

In 1999, Jerome Young tested positive for nandrolone. The USATF exonerated him and did not report the offense to the USOC or the IAAF. The IAAF later discovered the infraction, and asked the CAS to overturn the USATF decision. The CAS ruled in favour of the IAAF, who subsequently suspended Young after the fact; his results from 1999 and 2000 were annulled.

In Sydney, Jerome Young ran in the preliminary rounds of the 4 × 400m relay, but not in the final. The IAAF stripped the US of their gold medal in that relay, ruling that the team had included an ineligible athlete (Young). The appeal of that decision was the subject of the latest ruling.

In their original decision (and in this appeal), the IAAF argued logically

that the natural consequence under the relevant IAAF Rules of the annulment of an individual’s results was the annulment of any relay result in which the athlete had competed. Every member of a winning relay team is awarded a gold medal whether they participate only in the preliminary rounds or in the final. This shows that a relay is one event composed of the preliminary rounds and a final. If an athlete is ineligible to compete as part of the team in a preliminary round, the team’s performance in the overall event must be affected.

The "relevant IAAF Rule" is IAAF Rule 59.4:

If an athlete is found to have committed a doping offence and this is confirmed after a hearing or the athlete waives his right to a hearing, he shall be declared ineligible. In addition, where testing was conducted in a competition, the athlete shall be disqualified from that competition and the result amended accordingly. His ineligibility shall begin from the date of suspension. Performances achieved from the date on which the sample was provided shall be annulled.

It seems pretty clear to me; Jerome Young was ineligible to run in Sydney, so his results were annulled. One of those results came in the semifinal of the relay, which means that the relay team used an ineligible athlete in qualifying for the final. Which means that the US relay team was not eligible to compete in the race that they won.

The CAS essentially let the US team off the hook on a technicality, deciding that there was no IAAF rule in place to cover this situation:

IAAF Rule 59.4 plainly deals with, and is plainly intended to deal only with, the situation of "an athlete" who is found to have committed a doping offence. It speaks to "the athlete" being disqualified and to the period of "his" ineligibility as well as to the annulment of his performances achieved as from the date on which his positive sample was provided. To take a rule that plainly concerns individual ineligibility and the annulment of individual results, and then to stretch and complement and construe it in order that it may be said to govern the results achieved by teams, is the sort of legal abracadabra that lawyers and partisans in the fight against doping in sport can love, but in which athletes should not be required to engage in order to understand the meaning of the rules to which they are subject.

This ruling can be extended to an absurd conclusion. Imagine that three of the members of the US relay team had tested positive for steroids on the spot at the 2000 games. (This is not that farfetched a scenario, actually; Alvin and Calvin Harrison are both currently serving two-year bans for doping infractions, while Young is serving a lifetime ban for a second offense.) Then by the logic of the CAS ruling, those three athletes could be stripped of their gold medals, but the team result would be allowed to stand! "Legal abracadabra," indeed.

One of the supporting points of "evidence" in the CAS argument is that the IAAF rules have recently been expanded to explicitly cover this kind of case. In the eyes of the CAS, this modification is equivalent to an admission that the case was not covered under the old rules. This is again ridiculous. Essentially, the CAS is arguing that the relay events were not covered by any rules about doping!

I do feel some sympathy for the innocent members of the US relay team (assuming that there are some); but certainly no more than I feel for the other competitors in the race. As the IAAF noted in its original decision to strip the gold medal,

The principle of fairness affected all athletes; not only those in the USA Team, but also those who competed in the team that finished 9th in the semi-finals and never made it to an Olympic Final and those who competed in the [Bahamas] team that finished 4th in the final and never obtained an Olympic medal.

This little piece of wisdom is not evident in the CAS ruling.


Anonymous said...

I dont know about this one -- I guess the fact that he didnt run in the final -- and that the USA could likely have put someone else in there to run the semi and still won makes it hard for me to see disqualifying the result as a whole... but I think that peer pressure is a powerful motivator...

Amateur said...

Yeah, I can see why Johnson and the rest were pretty upset that they were being disqualified, given that Young was just some schlub who ran in the semis. And I have some sympathy for them, or at least, any of them that weren't on drugs. But using an ineligible team member should nullify your result, shouldn't it?