The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

IOC Decision on Merritt – Wrong Yet Again

Jan 13th, 2011
12:59 pm PDT

Doping is proving to be the biggest problem facing track and field – because it’s an issue that it just can’t seem to get right. And that’s saying a lot given the problems it faces in marketing; getting it’s best athletes to compete against each other; and finances – specifically getting enough revenue to pay more than a handful of athletes what they are truly worth.

So to say that doping may be the biggest problem of them all is saying a mouthful. But just take a look at the latest blunder in the sport – this time coming out of the IOC. Most are familiar with the case of Lashawn Merritt who was convicted last year of taking a banned substance – a substance that everyone involved admitted A) was taken inadvertently via an over the counter product used for “male enhancement”, and B) provided Merritt with NO assistance or enhancement outside the bedroom!

Yet the first blunder of the sport was to institute a two year time out for the offense – later reduced to 21 months for “cooperation”.  A major blunder when you consider that so  many individuals from other countries have been allowed three to six month suspensions for the same type of infraction – inadvertent ingesting of a banned substance via another substance. Which leads us to the inequity of our doping standards.

That aside, however, Merritt has been, and will fully serve, the time that was given him. But the sport will NOT consider his punishment complete. Because the ruling from the IOC is that Merritt regardless of intent, or the fact that he will serve the prescribed punishment, will under no circumstances be allowed to participate in the 2012 London Olympics – whether he tests clean as the driven snow in the intervening year and a half or not!

Now I’m not sure how they do it in the rest of the world, but here in the United States we have what is called Double Jeopardy, which essentially means that you cannot be punished for the same offense more than once!  Yet in track and field that is the standard, because IOC law says that if you serve a sentence of greater than six months you are not allowed to participate in the following Olympics.

I find several bits of irony in this. One is that,clearly that is why some countries avoid giving their top athletes suspensions of greater than six months – to retain their Olympic eligibility. Which is why I feel that those matters should solely be in the hands of the IAAF and WADA.

Two is that the intent is clearly aimed at those individuals who have attempted to defraud the system – i.e. cheat, dope. A ruling of inadvertent use clearly says that the individual did NOT attempt to cheat – and the ruling on Merritt stated as much.

Three is that Merritt, and any other athlete serving a sentence of whatever length, has already been punished according to the laws of the sport! A punishment that I am assuming is made to get those athletes that are competing “illegally” out of competition with those that are competing legally. If his inadvertent use provided no assistance, then Merritt’s performances were always “legal” and there was never any reason to remove him from competition – or to keep him from any further competitions, including the Games.

But the final irony is that while he, or any other athlete, can not compete in the “”next” Olympics, he would be eligible to compete in the following Olympics! So what purpose is it to keep him out of any Olympics at all – other than to simply punish him again? But it gets better, because the IOC says it isn’t punishing him at all! Because according to the IOC it is not a “sanction”, but rather an “issue of eligibility”! Now I’m sorry, but that’s like the government telling you they aren’t imposing a new “tax”, but rather a new “fee”. Because no matter what you call it they are taking more money from you, and in this case they are not allowing him to compete based on the six month or greater ban. And isn’t it interesting that this “condition” will not matter in the following Olympics! Sounds like an additional “ban” or “punishment” to me.

Too bad the sport doesn’t’ spend as much time and effort in “catching” drug cheats as they do trying to figure out how many ways they can ban them once they do. Because banning an athlete, or punishing him or her more than once (especially for inadvertent use) does NOTHING towards catching those that are out there ACTUALLY CHEATING. That is where the sport needs to be spending its time and resources.

This ruling is ridiculous. It’s Double Jeopardy for a man that has been told that his use was inadvertent and that he received NO aid from the substance that was found in his system. It’s a travesty and they need to be called to the carpet on it. Not just for Lashawn, but for any athlete in the same situation. We have rules, we have bans. We need to stop rehashing on punished athletes and get to the business of figuring out how to eliminate the drug problem. Instead of keeping the ones we have in the forefront of the news for years on end as if we’ve really accomplished something. If the sport wants to accomplish something then catch someone else and do like fisherman do – throw the small ones back and let me know when you catch a REAL fish.

2 Responses to “IOC Decision on Merritt – Wrong Yet Again”

  1. skydance7 says:

    You make many good points here. The drug policies of track and field are rife with problems.

    One of the problems which particularly bothers me is the exhaustive list of banned substances. In my opinion, we could easily weed out half of those substances (which have no positive effect on performance or fatigue recovery).

    As you imply, having done this would have allowed Merritt (and others) to compete, which would have been good for the sport both from an image and from an interest standpoint – especially considering the resurgence of Jeremy Wariner.

    Honest athletes must now be super-vigilant in choosing every common substance they ingest.

    I am also irked by the intrusive nature of random urinalysis testing. Go to a simple blood test. It retains at least a little more dignity for the clean athlete and from what I understand, is more accurate and less susceptible to fraud.

    This issue should be on the short list of "things to do" for our new USATF CEO.

  2. Conway Hill says:

    The whole anti doping effort is pretty much a joke in my humble opinion .. It would almost be better to do nothing than to do it the way they are doing it .. Because they accomplish little but do much to hurt the sport ..

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