Learning the lessons from sports doping
By Dania Bogle, writing from Kingston, Jamaica
For most Jamaican athletes, this has been one of the slowest years on the track, but the same cannot be said for happenings away from the sports arenas.
The country’s sport, administrators and, especially, its athletes have been put through the wringer.
It started in May 2013 with the positive test of one of the Jamaica’s leading female athletes, multiple World and Olympic champion, Veronica Campbell-Brown, followed six weeks later by similar positive tests from former world 100m record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic gold medallist Sherone Simpson.
That same year, non-athletes Renee Anne Shirley and Dr Paul Wright became household names for their revelations in the global media, talking about the gaping holes within Jamaica’s anti-doping programmes.
Dr Wright is a sports medicine doctor and a tester for the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO). Renee Anne Shirley is a former JADCO executive director turned whistle-blower.
Powell and Simpson received a reduction on his 18-month ban on 14 July from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and JADCO, which had imposed the ban, was ordered to pay all costs for the two athletes.
Powell said after the CAS ruling “I never felt that I should have received a sanction…I always felt that the 18 months was not in line with a first time positive test result and it being proven it came from a tainted supplement”.
As the saga had continued, local sporting interests have declared that they are making changes and moving on from the mistakes.
Dr Wright, who was caught up in the controversy after telling the BBC that the cases at the commission were the “tip of an iceberg”, told Caribbean Intelligence© that JADCO needed to become clearer about its role.
“It needs a national anti-doping organisation that understands its role. They are not there to protect athletes, they are there to educate them and protect them,” he said.
He noted that the decision by the US’s Tyson Gay - whose positive drug test was revealed on the same day as Powell’s - to reveal the names of suppliers and buyers had led to a reduced sentence for the American.
“That’s why he got a light sentence. We get the same info, but no one cared and they steadfastly refuse to do a robust anti-doping programme,” he said.
He suggested that JADCO was still not following through with its intended task.
“The PM has said we must do 400 [tests] per year, [but] no information has come from them. We just need to get them on the right track and we hope and pray that this one will be different and it will work good.”
High school coach, John Mair, believes that young athletes such as his charges will have a better understanding of what they need to do after having seen Powell, Simpson and Campbell-Brown’s fall from grace.
“Our athletes will now be aware of what they are putting in their bodies and they will consult some serious doctors,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“We know that some of these supplements, they have some fine print and some stuff that the athletes themselves are unable to identify, so it only made the athletes aware of what they are putting in their system.”
He doesn’t believe, however, that Jamaica’s brand will be adversely affected by the negative reporting.
“I think it did affect Brand Jamaica a little, but Jamaicans as we are, we are just gonna stand tall, and do what we are doing. I think the rest of the world is a bit envious of us, because this is the little spot on the dot [that] produces so many great athletes, quarter-milers, and it is a bit of a puzzle, so when we do well, [they] think that we are cheating, so all we have to do is keep clean and do what we are doing.”
David Riley, another local high school coach who has also led several Jamaican teams to international competition, believes that attitudes have changed.
“[The] attitude of people towards testing, in terms of athletes being aware of what they’re actually putting in their bodies. There is a lot of naivety that existed in the sport and I think some of that change.
“I think coaches now have a greater understanding of their role towards their athletes. I find that athletes are asking more questions than they used to ask and are more concerned about what they are ingesting, and I think that’s the best way to go, helping people to understand the personal responsibility.”
Riley, however, was critical of other countries, which he believes are in no position to attack Jamaica.
“I don’t think we can get aware from whatever damage has been done to our reputation,” he said.
“The main thing is that we are unable to say we don’t have athletes who dope, but I would like to find out which of the powers in track-and-field don’t have a doping issue. None of them can really speak as to casting stones at us.”
He admits that Jamaicans as a whole need to address their public relations machinery.
"I think Jamaicans don’t understand the fact that you can’t determine what people say and what people think just by the information you put out. Jamaicans are naïve to not realise that a lot of things are spun… Why aren’t we doing it?
A global raising of the bar
Jamaica’s anti-doping agencies do seem to be working towards addressing the issues and seeking greater input from their parent bodies.
In May, JADCO and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) signed a Joint Initiative Agreement. JADCO will have 15 months’ access to CCES’s anti-doping expertise.
The World Anti-Doping Agency itself has also stepped up its public awareness initiatives, by launching an e-learning programme entitled ALPHA, an Athlete Learning Programme about Health and Doping.
The programme is intended to help educate athletes “by addressing how an athlete’s attitudes shape his or her intentions, and ultimately determine doping or anti-doping behaviours”.
The local anti-doping body is also moving to increase its roster of doping control officers (DCOs). The body started training several officers and chaperones in June.
According to JADCO’s executive director, Carey Brown, these trainees “have demonstrated the qualities that JADCO needs in its doping control officers”.
“Their professionalism, patience and attention to detail are key components in becoming successful,” he adds.
“Their ability to communicate effectively with athletes undergoing the doping control process will be critical, as this can be quite stressful for some athletes, particularly those who may be going through the testing process for the first time.”
The next generation
Jamaica’s Minister of Sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, told Caribbean Intelligence© that Jamaica had voluntarily embarked on the process of getting its anti-doping lobby into line with international standards.
“We are serious and still are very serious,” she said.
“I think we would have strengthened the anti-doping commission in terms of hiring more professionals, developing our education programme,” she added, “and we have increased our budgeting allocation to JADCO.”
As for the next generation, two of Jamaica’s most promising junior athletes, high jumper Christoff Bryan and sprinter Jonielle Smith, told Caribbean Intelligence© that while they were already careful about what they put into their bodies, they are even more alert following the mishaps that befell their fellow Jamaican stars.
Both athletes are preparing to represent Jamaica at the World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon in the United States in late July.
Bryan, the World Youth Championships bronze medallist, said that he did not believe supplements were necessary.
The 18-year old has been tested several times by JADCO and says that his mother, who is a nurse, acts as a second guard.
“You are responsible for what you put into your body. You just have to be careful about what you consume and stuff that you take,” he said.
Smith, the Jamaican Girls Championship Class one 200m winner, said she was mindful of how much medication she now took.
“It placed a lot of emphasis on who you let in your life and who you let do stuff for you. That really stood out most of all the cases,” she said.
“Now, if coaches advise something as it comes on to medication, I always have to ask somebody else to check on JADCO, because those words are really big…so I ask somebody to check if it’s okay.”
Jamaica and the World Doping Agency (October 2013).