Sad, but anti-doping commission did the right thing
Last week, former 100-metre world record holder Asafa Powell and fellow athlete Sherone Simpson were sentenced to an 18-month suspension from athletics for doping offences. Their plight made world news. There will be a lot of sympathy for them in Jamaica.
Powell's case is perhaps particularly sad. Long before Usain Bolt became an international sporting megastar, Powell flew the flag for Jamaican athletics as the fastest man in the world. And the 18-month suspension, in the crucial period in the run-up to the Rio Olympics, could spell the end of his career.
But Powell's evidence, testifying in front of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission disciplinary panel, was not impressive. A world-class athlete like Powell should have been more conscious about what he was putting in his body and the importance of anti-doping measures.
He said that he swallowed the banned substance inadvertently, because it was in supplements provided by a new trainer. However, his contention that he didn't mention the no fewer than nine new supplements prescribed by the trainer because he "could not remember their names" seems scarcely credible.
He also seemed very vague about the anti-doping regime. He said "I don't know the (WADA) Code. I know there is a list that you are supposed to check, I don't know the code. I see the list when I am checking for something."
Powell went on to say that he had never attended an anti-doping seminar in his entire career. Many of his answers were cryptic. As the attorney for the panel said, "It goes to credibility. It affects all the witnesses' credibility. There are so many discrepancies given by Mr Doyle, Mr Powell, Miss Simpson."
Powell and Simpson have tried to blame everything on Canadian trainer Chris Xuereb. But the Canadian has refused to be made a scapegoat. He has stated "I did not provide any banned or illegal substances to Asafa Powell or Sherone Simpson. While I did recommend vitamins, all vitamins recommended by me were all purchased over the counter at reputable nutritional stores and were major brands."
Powell himself seems to have misunderstood the nature of a disciplinary panel. In his response to the 18-month suspension he said "Panels such as these, I understood, were assembled to allow athletes who, consciously or unconsciously come into conflict with the rules of sport, a chance at equitable redemption. Unfortunately, this was not the case."
But disciplinary panels are not about "equitable redemption". Redemption is a matter for God. Disciplinary panels, here on earth, are about establishing whether you have broken the rules or not. In the event that you have, they impose punishment.
Away from Jamaica, people are a little less sympathetic to Powell. The cynicism of the Americans is to be expected. They are Jamaica's fierce rivals in the world of athletics. Trinidadian sprinter Ato Bolden expressed a common view when he said he was surprised at the length of the sentence. But former St Kitts and Nevis 100m world champion Kim Collins, in an interview with the BBC said: "If you say you trust people and that's what happens, you're just as bad as them."
Collins went on to say that alleged drug cheats always protested their innocence and appealed to them to face up to what they do. "Come on. We all know. Man up," Collins said.
The truth is that Jamaica's athletics reputation is a very precious brand. There was no dispute that Powell and Simpson had taken banned substances. For Jamaica's anti-doping commission to have given them an unduly light sentence would have damaged Jamaica's reputation in general and the reputation of Jamaican athletics in particular.
Sad as we all are for Powell and Simpson as people, lovers of Jamaica should be glad that it's anti-doping authorities have tried to do the right thing.
— Diane Abbott is the British Labour party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington