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10 Years On: Back To A Four-Year Ban?

Nov 19, 2012  - Craig Lord

The "Osaka Rule", which banned drug cheats from competing at the Olympic Games, has been scrapped from the latest draft of the World Anti-Doping Code in favour of raising the suspension for the most serious offences from two to four years.

Good move - but one that comes 10 years after FINA went that way but was forced to back track because of WADA, a decade of fight lost, particularly after the anti-doping agency fought the likes of the IOC and the British Olympic Association when those bodies attempted to keep cheats out of London 2012. 

WADA's Foundation Board met at the weekend in Montreal and recommended that those who turn to anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, masking agents, trafficking and prohibited methods to enhance their performance will be served a four-year ban. THat would keep them out of the next Games and as such WADA's move reverses the weakness it has shown, on the basis of legal reasoning, of late.

Rule 45 - Osaka - of the Olympic Charter does not appear in draft version of the WADA Code, which will be voted on in Johannesburg almost a year from now and would not come into force until 2015. So much for fast action and a show of force when it comes to dealing with people who will stop at nothing to cheat in time to pick up every passing prize in sport, season in, season out.

Rule 45, in force from 2007, was challenged last year by the United States Olympic Committee on behalf of LaShawn Merritt, the Olympic 400m track champion from 2008 who was banned in October 2010 for 21 months after testing positive for a banned substance he took  so that he could feel better about the size of his penis.

USOC persuaded the Court of Arbitration for Sport that barring him from London 2012 was unfair because it was a second punishment for the same offence. In accepting that argument, CAS erected a different wall to fairness and allowed a whole host of cheats back into the Games.

WADA turned the same screw on the BOA and allowed the likes of convicted cheats Dwain Chambers, Carl Myerscough and David Millar access to London 2012.

The WADA Code included a new clause when published in June: 10.15, or "Limitation on Participation in the Olympic Games" holds that in the case of serious offences "as an additional sanction, the athlete or other person shall be ineligible to participate in the next Summer Olympic Games and the next Winter Olympic Games taking place after the end of the period of ineligibility otherwise imposed".

That was then removed in case of further legal challenge. The latest move is less open to challenge.

WADA President John Fahey has said that doubling the length of the drugs ban from two to four years sends a "message loud and clear" that drugs cheats will be punished. Quite right. Shame it had to come 10 years after WADA forced FINA to step back from the tough stance it took in response to the China crisis of the 1990s, when more than 40 athletes at the tip of an iceberg own problems, tested positive, the vast majority for the most serious of reasons on the list of banned substances and practices, the abuse of young teenagers by rogue coaches, doctors and politicians akin to what unfolded in the GDR in the 1970s and 1980s.

"It is clear from the number of submissions we received, that there is a strong desire in the world of sport, from Governments and within the anti-doping community to strengthen the sanction articles in the Code," Fahey told reporters. "This second draft has done that, doubling the length of suspension for serious offenders and widening the scope for anti-doping organisations to impose lifetime bans."

Four years bans have been successfully challenged by German athletes in domestic courts. Such civil law cases are no impediment to the likes of the IOC, WADA and FINA stating clearly what club rules are and sticking to their guns.

When the case of former German athlete and cheat Katrin Krabbe was raised, Fahey told reporters: "The Code review is intended to increase the effectiveness of anti-doping, and athletes must know that there is a heavy price to pay for intentional doping, that the risks are high. I am confident this draft will deliver that message loud and clear, and that our own stakeholders will agree."