SWIMNEWS ONLINE: July 1996 Magazine Articles

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Cecil M. Colwin

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne has reduced FINA's ban on Scott Volkers from one year to seven months effective retroactively.

The ban on Volkers ended on June 30th and the Australian Olympic Committee immediately included Volkers on the team for Atlanta.

Volkers was suspended for giving Samantha Riley a banned substance, namely a headache pill. Volker's original suspension was for a two-year period, which, two months later, was reduced to one year.

Otto Sonnleitner, president of the Australian Swimming Coaches' Association, says: "Scott will be travelling with the team on Tuesday, 2nd July, to train in Athens, Georgia, prior to the Games. I certainly believe that having Scott on the deck will enhance the chances of his swimmers performing to their peak."


"Just this morning I spoke with Scott, who is naturally over the moon about the CAS decision. Rather than just joy, it was a feeling of incredible relief. He was indeed grateful for the support from ASCA and spent most of yesterday on the phone with calls from well-wishers. He told me that the past three to four weeks of training were spent in trying to have his swimmers adapt to the fact that they most likely would have someone else coaching them."

In its judgement, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne said the substance, propoxyphene metabolite was not considered to enhance the performance of athletes and Volkers was found to have administered it to Riley without actual knowledge of what he was doing.

It upheld FINA's finding of guilt and said that Volker's conduct fell far below the standard of care and vigilance required of him in his professional duty as a swimming coach.

"Volkers' negligence has damaged his international reputation and the shadow of the finding will continue to hang over him for the remainder of his career," it said. "Until FINA's findings Volkers was a man of impeccable professional reputation."

The court said that, taking into account the special facts of the case, "in particular the state of mind FINA found Volkers to have had, and the mitigation which has been put forward on his behalf", it had decided to commute the sentence to seven months. The sentence applied retroactively from December 1, 1995.

Volker's barrister, Peter Baston, praised the court's "swiftness in dealing with such an important matter. I found the whole procedure before the court to be exceptional. Our appeal was lodged, heard and determined within one month," he said.

One little pill caused a seven month headache
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

Before the hearing, Volker's lawyer was reported, in the "Newsletter of the World Swimming Coaches' Association " (Vol. 3-96) to have asked: "How can Scott be suspended by a body of which he is not even a member? What jurisdiction does FINA have over a swimming coach? Scott does not have a card saying that he is a member of FINA, do you? Scott has no privileges within FINA. No rights, no advantages. FINA does nothing FOR him, he is not asked to be a member of FINA. By what right do they suspend him? Good questions, aren't they?"


To summarize:-first FINA imposed a two year ban on Volkers. Then, two months later, the ban was reduced by half, and, finally, the Arbitration Court cut the ban by almost another half.

Volkers readily admitted to what he had done. To say the least, he was careless and imprudent in the extreme in giving a swimmer any sort of medication at all. Any unauthorized and/or unprescribed medication has the potential to cause death, and or other serious consequences. Volkers definitely should have been punished for negligence.

However, he clearly did not attempt to cheat by seeking an unfair advantage for his swimmer. A strong admonition, or, at most, a three-month suspension, would have served the purpose, and also provided a warning to others.

How could a single dose of a headache pill be punishable by a two years suspension, when administering steroids over a long period of time, with intent to cheat, occasioned only a one- year suspension in the case of the five Chinese coaches ?

(It should be noted that the one-year suspension of the five Chinese coaches was handed down by the Chinese Swimming Federation, and FINA did not punish them at all; it merely recorded the suspensions by "taking note" of them in its minutes.)

In the light of the above, one must ask whether Volker's initial supensions of two years, subsequently reduced to one year, were unreasonable and disproportionate. Conversely, if the Chinese coaches had been expelled from the sport for life, then, and only then, would Volkers' original suspension have seemed somewhat less unjust.

Another question: when the headache pill was found not to be performance-enhancing, why was the ban not reduced or dropped altogether? Finally, whose ineptitude resulted in the substance being on the banned list in the first place?

The whole Volkers affair has been blown out of proportion. FINA could have done a better job in handling the whole miserable affair. At least, it could have given some outward appearance of wanting to be impartial.

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