The British Olympic Association (BOA) is locked in a fight with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). I wanted to cover this story earlier in the week but there’s been too much other news to fit it in.
In case you’ve missed it, the BOA has a rule saying anyone banned for doping forfeits the right to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games. But WADA say the ban for a doping offence is two years and that the BOA, in adding an effective life ban, goes beyond this. Consequently WADA has declared Britain a “non-compliant nation”. An embarrassment given the country is set to host the Olympics in 2012.
The risk though is that in seeking to punish British dopers WADA and international efforts to tackle doping are underminded .
I’m sympathetic to the BOA’s idea, that the Olympics are some kind of higher contest, a more noble competition with higher standards about who is allowed to ride. One twitter correspondent put the case well on his blog.
But as another blogger Richard Moore writes the trouble here isn’t about noble ideas of keeping those with a record of doping away from the Games, instead WADA’s internationally agreed code is at stake:
The Code will only work if its signatories – who include governments, sports federations and anti-doping bodies, including UK Anti-Doping – adhere to it.
I tend to agree. If the host nation of the 2012 Olympics starts selecting which parts of WADA’s rules it likes and which bits it wants to drop, then what’s to stop, say, Russia in 2014 allowing banned athletes serving a ban to compete in the Soichi Winter Olympics? Or for another nation to declare some banned substances will be tolerated? Now this is unlikely if not impossible, especially since WADA can probably take the BOA to the ever-busy CAS and enforce the ruling.
I’m a big fan of WADA, if it didn’t exist we’d be calling for it. Sport is an international cross-border competition and unilateral rules from nation to nation have made tackling doping a mess so the creation of an international agency has been essential. Harmonised rules that work around the world are essential for tackling doping. Look at Operacion Puerto in Spain where more Italians than Spaniards have been busted. Or ask Jeannie Longo.
Earlier this year we had the organiser of the Italian national championships saying anyone convicted for doping could not ride. I agree with the sentiment but the trouble is that this turns the sport into a free for all. If one race says no because they don’t like some riders, what’s to stop another organiser saying they don’t want, say, any Belgians in the race? And to return to the Olympics and cycling, the BOA can have their ban but Alejandro Valverde and other convicted dopers will be there.
The only way to approach the subject of bans and anti-doping is through international agreement. But if the BOA want to ban those with doping offences, it needs to secure this via international agreement. The irony is that in standing firm on its moral high ground, the BOA’s stance against British dopers undermines WADA and hits the international effort to tackle doping.
Worst of all we now have a classic stand-off with both sides beginning a shouting match via the media instead of sitting down for dialogue and trying to resolve this. This is understandable for in some sense, both sides are right. For the sake of sport I hope both sides don’t get too carried away.
- A more specific thought: what if the person who most wants the BOA ban overturned is not David Millar… but Mark Cavendish? The sprinter will need several riders working for him and if the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome bring horsepower over 250km, David Millar is another rider capable of towing Cavendish and the whole bunch. There are others like Alex Dowsett and Geraint Thomas but the first is unproven over long distances and the second is looking at the track events.