Jamaica cannot afford to shrug off the Shirley allegations


Sunday, August 25, 2013

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JAMAICANS all over the world are currently bursting with pride at the performance of our athletes at the 14th IAAF World Championships held recently in Moscow.

However, there remains a shadow over the triumph. To widespread dismay, before the Championships actually began, a number of Jamaican athletes failed their drug tests. They included Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson. Obviously, after such a shattering curtain raiser to the Championships, the performance of Jamaica's athletes was even more remarkable.

But now the former executive director of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO), Renee Anne Shirley, has gone public with allegations that Jamaica's drug-testing programme is completely inadequate. And in response to these allegations the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says that Jamaica could be expelled from the 2016 Olympics, if it does not do something about its drug-testing procedures.

Shirley has been widely quoted alleging inadequate out-of-competition testing. But she was also very scathing about JADCO as a whole. She said: "When I took over, JADCO did not have a large enough staff in place to carry out rigorous anti-doping programmes. The Doping Control/Technical Services and the Education/Communications Units had only one junior staff member each, and the director positions were vacant. There was no Whereabouts Information Officer -- in charge of keeping track of athletes so that they could be tested out of competition -- and only one full-time doping control officer.

"The committee in charge of reviewing the legitimacy of medical prescriptions for athletes was without a chairman and had never met. I arrived to find no accounting staff in place, and no monthly financial statements had been produced in the five years since inception. JADCO was behind on payments for a number of its bills."

She went on to raise questions about athletes buying drugs on the Internet:

"During my time with JADCO, I also voiced concern about Internet purchases of drugs and supplements by athletes, as there is reason to believe that some Jamaican athletes have been careless in their Internet purchases of dietary supplements, the ingredients labels of which are not tightly regulated in Jamaica."

She also hinted at Jamaican involvement in past doping scandals -- Trevor Graham is a Jamaican-born former sprinter and athletics coach based in the United States. He was coach to the disgraced sprint trio of Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. Eventually the US Olympic Committee barred Graham indefinitely from all its training sites, because so many of his athletes had failed drug tests.

Only people closer to the situation than I can say what motivated Shirley to attack Jamaican athletics in this way. And there is no doubt that the American track and field community looks on Jamaica's athletic achievement with envy and malice. This is why Shirley's decision to publish in an American sports magazine was unfortunate.

But Jamaica cannot afford to shrug off Shirley's allegations. For one thing, they were reported all over the world. So, even in the country's current economic plight, Jamaica must find the money to staff JADCO properly. Unless allegations of problems with Jamaica's drug-testing regime are dealt with properly, long after the afterglow of Moscow has faded suspicions may remain within the international community.

— Diane Abbott is a British Labour party MP and spokeswoman on public health


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