/ August 19, 2008

IOC Won’t Medal for Right to a Fair Trial…


The Beijing Olympics, like most, have raised hairy ethical questions about the fairness of competition. Are the female Chinese gymnasts really 16? Are genetic modifications going to be the next, more insidious form of doping? Is Michael Phelps man, or fish?

Most coverage focuses on the need to prevent the use of illegal, performance enhancing drugs; a number of elite American athletes (including swimmers Phelps and Torres) have consented to an even stricter testing schedule with the US anti-doping agency to prove that their talents are all natural. Few, however, take a close look at the consequences of the testing regimen for those who come back positive. Some athletes who test positive for various steroids and drugs are innocent, exhibiting trace amounts of chemicals from other sources in their blood, yet the IOC continues to bar them from competition.

This week, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog contends that the International Olympic Committee might be more dedicated to the appearance of fairness than the fate of the athletes, who have little recourse to prove their innocence in time to compete. One victim of testing is Zach Lund, an American skeleton racer who was barred from Turin’s Winter Olympics for showing the chemical Finasteride in his blood, present not from steroid use but from his hair-regrowth treatment. Even though the IOC cleared him of wrong-doing, he was prohibited from racing and put on probation for a year.

Athletes have little power to appeal the anti-doping decisions of the IOC; competitors may take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but decisions there must be handed down within 24 hours. According to Jonathon Taylor, who works on anti-doping cases for professional tennis, at the Olympics, “you have to maintain the credibility of the spectacle, so you need to deal quickly with any investigation of doping.” But, this may rob the competitors of “full due process,” especially when the Games are taking place in a notoriously remote place like China, with visas hard to come by and a lengthy flight for most of the field’s legal experts.

Does the International Olympic Committee have its anti-doping priorities straight? Let us know what you think below, in the comments.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog

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