A Conversation with VCB
BEFORE leaving for the National Stadium for the second evening of the Jamaica National Trials I allowed myself a quick nap, dozing off for much longer than I would have liked, and in the process did what I seldom do when asleep, I had a dream.
In my dream I saw Veronica Campbell Brown (VCB) the morning of the Jamaica Invitational meet in Kingston earlier this year, and she was about to do some light exercises. Being among her legions of fans, and moreso a sports journalist who is always on the lookout for a quote from a star, I approached her tentatively and asked how her preparation was going for Moscow. "Going well," was her guarded response. "But I have a small dilemma just now." Never known to be open with anyone, let alone strangers, I guessed that she might have remembered my face among those in the pool of journalists at the two previous Olympics where she had carved her name in gold. "I have a bothersome swelling of my right foot that is a bit disconcerting," she explained. "A knowledgeable friend gave me this cream which is purported to have strong healing properties. My friend assured me that it is safe to use and will bring down the swelling rapidly. Being the careful person I am, however, I checked the label and she's right. None of the substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency list appear on the label. So I guess it's safe. It seems to be really good stuff and I'm really bothered by this swelling."
So why not go ahead and apply it?" was my question. "Because to be perfectly honest, I am totally unfamiliar with the cream, and while the label puts it in the clear, I am not 100 per cent certain. What if...?" her voice trailed off. Sensing that she was truly conflicted by thoughts about the potential fallout if the cream was more than meets the eye. Yet, wanting the relief it promised, I wanted to know if, in the event it contained any of the WADA prohibited substances, whether there was a way for her to let it be known that she was not seeking to get an unfair advantage by its use. "Given the time constraint, it is unlikely that I would get the required exemption," she said. "But isn't there a way around that?" I wanted to know. "The only thing I can think of is to state on the declaration form that I have used the cream. It ought not to be a problem at all, if as indicated it does not contain anything untoward. However, in the unlikely event that it does, it should then be clear by my declaration that my intention was not to cheat. Heavens, why else would I want to let WADA know that I have used this cream? But then that ought not to be an issue as nothing so far suggests a problem with this particular cream. If it does, however, then dawg eat mi supper."
"But what if it does...what would happen?" I started to stutter when the ringing of the telephone by my bedside jerked me back to reality. It had all been a dream.
I do not start this column with this fictional drama for idle purposes. My intent was to suggest what I see as the most logical explanation of the circumstances around VCB's failed test. It is informative to note that the IAAF itself has indicated that they believe this to be a minor infraction. "Although we would not normally comment on active cases [we] would simply remind media to keep [a] sense of perspective," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "All evidence seems to point to this offence being a lesser one" -- which could thus warrant only a brief suspension or even just a public warning. Obviously, I could be wrong, and while I certainly do not share some person's condemnation of the media coverage of this incident, I do also join Davies in advising journalists to not sensationalise the news around this infraction. Let us wait and allow VCB her day in court and let us see what conclusions are drawn and what punishment is applied, surely VCB's glorious and unblemished career to date deserves that consideration.
While on the subject, I note where the Sports Globe newspaper claimed that WADA would soon be introducing a four-year ban for a first offence. This information appears in a story about VCB in the current edition under the headline "Not a cheat." I would caution readers against accepting that information at face value. Last time I checked, the situation regarding punishment guidelines is way more complicated and varies for different sports and countries. Just consider what happened in the case of a UK sprinter who appealed to the court of arbitration against his punishment leading into the London 2012 Olympics.
The majority of the stakeholders, including the IOC and related governing associations, must support any amendment to the WADA Code. WADA is primarily responsible for establishing global anti-doping rules and procedures and for monitoring the World Anti-doping Code. Related activities include scientific research, education and development of anti-doping capacities. Dispensing discipline is the preserve of WADA's affiliate body in the respective member country, such as the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission. However, as the VCB case shows, dispensing discipline also remains the preserve of the governing body of the respective sport and possibly the national Olympic Association. In other words, while national anti-doping commissions, like JADCO, are responsible for determining guilt or innocence, the respective national associations still have a right to determine punishment. The WADA Code does include sentence guidelines, but the agency cannot unilaterally impose such an amendment without the broad-based support of its stakeholders which includes the IOC, IAAF and their national affiliates.
Steering clear of the dos and don'ts in the WADA Code appears a treacherous minefield especially for track and field athletes. One little slip and they are gone. Much to ponder.