VOLKERS: LATE ADDITION TO OLYMPIC TEAM
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."
OVER THE MOON
"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
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?"
TOO CLEVER BY HALF?
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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