The verdict against Steve Mullings was just even if the hearing was coloured

The verdict against Steve Mullings was just even if the hearing was coloured

Clare Forrester

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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Based on the stories released by the media related to the Steve Mullings disciplinary hearing, a few questions have been raised whether he got a fair hearing. If one listened to Mullings' very articulate attorney, the response would be "no". Beyond that we all know the saying related to the dispensation of justice in our judicial system, that "justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done". From my own perspective, while the hearing might not have been as fair as everybody would prefer, the sentence itself was manifestly just. In any event a sentence longer than three years would also mean the end of his career in track and field athletics.

When the news of the failed urine sample test was first disclosed, I recall people saying unkind things about him. Wanting to be kind, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. After all there were stories that he had been experiencing some irregular heartbeats and might have ingested diuretics of some sort without seeking the necessary permission and had the misfortune to run into the ever-vigilant Jamaica Anti-Doping Agency (JADA) at the National Championships. Readers may recall that Mullings appeared to have been suffering some discomfort following the 200-metre race at the National Championships at the National Stadium last summer. A video recording showing him after the race (which he had won in convincing fashion), rubbing his chest cavity while appearing to be in some physical distress has been played repeatedly. When no confirmation of this was forthcoming from the sprinter or his representatives, the signs were ominous against his chances of being found not guilty or even obtaining a finding of mitigating circumstances that may have resulted in a "soft" sentence. Still, his lawyer made a reasonable case that even found some sympathy from a few bleeding hearts, especially on the social media circuit. However, from all the comments seen, the verdict has overwhelming public support.

If I follow his lawyer's arguments, the hearing and sentence were not fair for three main reasons. In the first case, they challenged the integrity of the samples shipped by JADA to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) lab in Canada. The attorney also blasted the tribunal for failing to allow the sprinter to testify on his behalf via Skype, while using unsubstantiated information about the substance for which he was tested in support of their verdict. The lawyer further contended that the current rules of the governing body do not stipulate a mandatory life ban for a repeat offender. I cannot recall hearing the lawyer raising a question about the speed of the verdict once the representations closed, however. Ten minutes of deliberations in handing down a virtual life sentence seems particularly quick and causes one to wonder whether all the relevant considerations were applied.

That being said, there is no doubt at all in my mind that if there was ever a time when Brand Jamaica needed defending it was in dealing with this case against the sprinter. I am left to wonder, however, if the public was apprised of some of the more relevant information that one would have expected to emerge during the hearing; information that could have reduced any lingering doubt about the fairness of the hearing.

Based on my understanding of the drug sampling practice of JADA and WADA, all samples are so effectively sealed for transportation purposes that any compromise of the package would be easily discernible. But the major problem with Mullings' case was his absence from the hearing. His explanation that he was warned to stay out of Jamaica because coming here would put his life in danger must have added salt to the wound that he inflicted on himself. Besides, I do recall that the panel explained that the defence team did not provide sufficient notice, for that would allow them to make the necessary arrangements for his testimony to be conveyed via Skype.

The case of Mullings is a tragedy, not just for the sprinter but for Jamaica, especially as our track and field programme has been under the global microscope of suspicion, given the country's phenomenal success in the sport. Many of the criticisms against Jamaica come from other athletes envious of our success. After all, how can a small country of less than three million people produce such astonishing results that in the process threaten to corner the sports market on a global scale? That is why it remains so important for our administrators and management teams to implement or to step up our drug education programme that targets athletes from at least the high school level. Special emphasis must be placed on reaching those who reside and train overseas. One only has to review the list of infringements to deduce that in the majority of cases the offenders are based overseas.

This brings me to the recent case of the four local-based athletes who were tested positive for what was deemed a banned substance. Unlike the Mullings case and any other preceding it, the case against these unfortunate athletes did a grave disservice to the country and the athletes. That decision has meant that every time Yohan Blake's name appears in print it is accompanied by a statement about his having been found guilty of one infringement of the WADA regulations. What would happen if he is ever tested positive for a minor offence as in the case of Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce?

I remain steadfast in the view that the decision to overturn the initial not-guilty verdict in 2010 against the Jamaican four and to replace the panel with one that produced the ill-advised verdict was unjust and manifestly unfair. Could it be that JADA was on a mission to win the favour of WADA? One hopes that the four, and Blake in particular, since one expects that he has a stronger pull than the others with sponsors, will not allow the charge to remain unchallenged.

Journalism Week

The week got off with a bang on Sunday with a stirring sermon delivered by the Reverend Dr Stevenson Samuels. Dr Samuels, who I'm told comes from the same famous Samuels family that has produced two of our brightest practising legal luminaries including the Press Association's own legal adviser, held the attention of the congregation attended by more than a dozen journalists from both the Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association of Jamaica. It is not very often that a preacher goes on for at least half an hour and nobody notices the time. That and much more happened on Sunday at the Hope Fellowship Church on Molynes Road. The theme for Journalism Week is a poignant line taken from the National Anthem: "Justice, truth, be ours forever". During the service, PAJ president Jenni Campbell committed journalists to being guided by the truth and challenged us "to keep ourselves, our political and other public representatives honest". She also charged journalists that during this election season "the press corps has to get beyond the obstacles and ensure that critical information is available to the public".

In the next two weeks we hope to review some of the coverage provided to see how well this charge has been adhered to by the fourth estate.

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