We learn today that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has cleared the two-time Olympic 200 metres champion Veronica Campbell-Brown to compete again with immediate effect, after she had earlier received a two-year ban for a performance-enhancing drugs offence.
I cast no aspersions at Ms Campell-Brown, who is no doubt completely innocent and – as a result of the finding of a banned diuretic – was denied the opportunity to defend her World Championships 200 metre title last year.
Having acknowledged that, as a long-time hardliner on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport, I despair of the current state of the drive to expose the drugs cheats and ensure ‘clean’ competition.
It seems to me that the standard of proof as regards drugs in sport is set too high. It is effectively that which applies (in the law of England and Wales) to criminal trials, i.e. ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, rather than the ‘balance of probabilities’ which is applied to civil cases.
I may be too cynical for my own good, but if you’re an athlete who becomes famous, successful and wealthy enough, you can afford to challenge to the Nth degree, using clever lawyers and top forensic experts to seek out any technical and/or complicated error or argument, any relevant drug-testing authority’s adverse finding. And probably sow enough doubt to prevail.
In short, the chances of the drugs-investigators being able to identify improper drugs use – and then subsequently being able make their allegation stick – remain so small that, on balance, the risk of ever being detected and/or suffering punishment is well worth taking when the considerable rewards of winning big sporting events, both financial and reputational, are so good.
Whilst accepting the principle that no innocent person ever deserves to be banned – or indeed, have their ‘right to work’ denied in what, inevitably, is a short career – the fact is that, without sufficient deterrence for those tempted to cheat, sport risks losing its most fundamental aspect, i.e. that competitors and onlookers alike can rely upon the assumption that contests are ‘true’ and fair.
If you like, it’s the belief that on this day, in this place, in these circumstances, the winner of the contest was indeed the best. That’s why we have lists of records and why hundreds of young fans the world over vie with each other to research the history books in order to contrast and compare the ‘greats’ of their favourite sports.
Imagine the impact if one day the sporting authorities were to announce – for example – that they were sorry but, based upon reliable research and surveys, it would be reasonable to assume that at least 40% of Olympic, World Cup or World Championship results down through history had been ‘dodgy’ in some form or another.
In an instant they’d destroy millions of people’s faith in the world order – if not life itself.
See here for today’s report upon Veronica Campbell-Brown’s predicament on the website of the Daily Telegraph – APPEAL OUTCOME