Over the past few days it seems that every media entity in the world has been reporting about Jamaica’s embarrassing anti-doping situation. They have been publishing multiple reports about Jamaican athletes failing drug tests and how the local anti-doping agency has been found wanting and now telling the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that now is not a good time to accommodate what is being described as an ‘extraordinary’ audit of the period between February and July 2012.
That is the period when JADCo only conducted only one out of competition test in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics.
Jamaica failed to do those tests, it says, because they did not have test kits available nor did they have the funds to purchase new ones – the limitations of trying to run an aggressive drug programme on a shoe-string budget. It is no secret that Jamaica is as broke as they come with debt amounting to 150 per cent of GDP. Seventy cents of every dollar earned, or borrowed, goes toward servicing the island’s crippling debt. Whatever remains pays public-sector salaries, fixes roads, equips hospitals, and such. There is very little to go round. That we have the world’s best sprinters doesn’t help the situation.
Truth is, since sport is such a very important facet of our daily lives and the fabric of what makes us a great sporting nation, more resources need to be put into the budget for the five-year-old anti-doping agency. It is also essential for us to protect the integrity of our athletic performances given that the nation just happens to be home to six-time Olympic champion and eight-time World champion Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter that ever lived. The last thing we want to do is have people question his performances. By the way, Bolt was tested 12 times by the IAAF last year.
In the last two years, JADCo has faced significant challenges. They need to fill critical positions that will ensure that the commission is compliant with the WADA Code but that they need to fill those positions is of their own doing, considering that the persons who filled those positions previously left them out of frustration. Some claim they were being forced out because they came into those positions under the previous administration. Some of those persons with years of experience were being asked to interview for their own jobs once their contracts expired. This, despite being favourably evaluated prior to the expiration of those contracts. So they left leaving creating the vacancies.
Ann Shirley was appointed Executive Director in July 2012, more than six months after the post was vacated by Patrice Charles, the former ED who departed to pursue political ambitions. Shirley didn’t last long because she reportedly abused her staff to the extent that she was asked by the board of commissioners to work from home. In subsequent interviews Shirley conceded she was a bully.
She was fired and in May, four-time Olympian Cathy Rattray Samuel acted as ED until mid-August when she too departed.
Word is that a new ED has been selected, but there is still no word on whether other key positions have been filled. Could this be the reason why WADA could not be accommodated at this juncture? May be, but there is a lot of truth in the fact that the agency is also preparing for the upcoming hearings for the five Jamaican athletes who failed drug tests at the national trials in June.
This brings me back to the issue of testing. While WADA is rightfully concerned about the lack of testing by JADCo during the afore-mentioned period, track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, has said publicly that it is not terribly concerned. This is because they aggressively tested Jamaica’s elite athletes during that period when JADCo experienced a ‘breakdown’ in testing. Something that Ann Shirley didn’t really mention in her expose’ in Sports Illustrated. But just this week, the IAAF revealed that they tested 32 Jamaican athletes ‘aggressively’ throughout throughout the year. Nineteen Jamaican athletes in their testing pool were tested 126 times throughout the year. That works out to more than six tests per athlete, which is an even higher rate than athletes from the USA were tested. That fact has been largely overlooked and I am wondering why.
Yes, JADCo dropped the ball during that period in question but the IAAF picked it up and ran hard with it.
It is easy to be suspicious but when you factor in all the information available things don’t seem all that sinister. It would help if there was greater transparency at JADCo, no doubt. When you punch well above your weight class in any sport, it will raise eyebrows and you need to be able to stand up to public scrutiny; welcome it even, so that your athletes are not looked upon suspiciously.
However, critics of the beleaguered agency need to stop isolating the information they use in their critique the JADCo, and start painting the broader picture. Yes, the JADCo has issues with its programme that needs to be addressed. They need to fill key positions and they need to be up to code, but here is the thing. The six track and field athletes who failed drug tests were all ‘caught’ here in Jamaica. Not anywhere else. Steve Mullings failed drug tests here, so did Julian Dunkley. The greater share of those who have failed tests, failed them at home. So something is being done right here. It’s not like JADCo has folded its arms and allowed doping to run amok. That little piece of information needs to be added to the conversation as well.