TWO athletics experts have put forward contrasting views on whether drug testing ought to be allowed at the popular Boys' and Girls' Athletic Championships.
High school athletics coach David Riley and sports medicine specialist Dr Paul Wright believe that there could be advantages and disadvantages in conducting tests among high school athletes, although both are common in their view that a proper system should be instituted before any positive effect can be felt, if the system were to be introduced.
"I am not interested in it right now, for a lot of reasons," Excelsior High School coach Riley told Jamaica Observer journalists during yesterday's Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue, St Andrew headquarters.
"Champs is a unique sporting activity and it is a points-scoring competition. Champs (can be) won and lost by half-a-point and it would mean therefore that, unlike what happens at the World Championships and the Olympics where the medal winners are tested, the person who comes eighth in an event contributes to the team's score. If, in fact, the championship is won by half-a-point, and you are testing the first three, the guy who comes eighth -- because he is on drugs he makes it into the final -- his team scores a point and they win, but you never caught him. It's a little challenging," said Riley, who coached Wolmer's to the Boys' Championship title in 2010.
But Dr Wright, an outspoken crusader against drugs in sport, insisted that testing athletes at that level of competition would redound to the benefit of Jamaica and its image globally, something which has taken a battering in recent time.
"I believe that you should test at Champs for educational purposes. I believe that the present method of education whereby you go to schools, you go to colleges, you go to sporting groups, you give lectures, you show slides and you hand out pamphlets is not working," maintained Dr Wright, a medical doctor and former athletics, hockey, and cricket representative for Wolmer's Boys School, which he attended between 1960 and 1967.
To Riley, though, the issue is far too complex for Jamaica to push its head out and be a pacesetter in testing athletes at that level.
"Champs is a competition where athletes do multiple events. You run the 100-metre final, you are due for testing, but you have other events that you need to contest within two hours. When are you going to be carted off [for] drug testing? Should you be tested immediately after the event you just did, considering that athletes take up to three hours to pass urine, is it noble for them to miss their next event so that they can pass urine, to demonstrate that they are drug free?" Riley asked.
"There are a lot of things to balance. I am not particularly interested in supporting it at this time until those things are thought through properly, honestly looked at, and we find a model elsewhere which we can at least use as a basis to make changes," he said.
"There are very few things that we have invented in Jamaica, and I am not sure that we should be the forerunners in this particular area, as much as we might think that we are creative, but because of the fact that we fail so many times to properly lay out a plan. I am not very confident and very supportive at this stage for something like that," added Riley.
"I also would like for us to first define what the objectives would be. What would you want to achieve in terms of drug testing at Champs? Would it be to declare to the world that our athletes and the performances are clean and good? If that is so, then there are some things that we would have to do. Is it that we want to find drug cheats -- who are given things by the adults around them? I am actually interested in that.
"But we need to define what the objectives would be. Whenever you start implementing things, you are going to have to do the balancing act and really what is it that we are going to be giving up with the particular meet.
"I am all for drug testing and I have heard Dr Wright said we are only going to test the best, but if we are going to only test the best, then it is only going to have a partial impact on what we really want to do."
Dr Wright, however, suggested that it was necessary for school athletes to be aware of what was happening around them, and the dangers that they faced if they went, knowingly or unknowingly, the route of drugs.
"I believe that if you get the people involved, to be involved in the testing process, whereby if they know that they could be tested, the onus is on them for the strict liability reason and the support group to be aware of the pitfalls involved in drugs in sport and to avoid them," said Dr Wright, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon.
The taking of supplements, for example, is something that he believes younger athletes could become more conscious about.
"I keep hearing this excuse about supplements," he said. "There is no excuse about supplements. The WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) websites have in bold capitals, 'Do not take supplements'.
"There is no scientific study that has ever shown a benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements on performance. The central nutrients, vitamins, minerals and co-factors do not provide energy for muscular contraction. So when you see these people taking these supplements, they are wasting time and money," Dr Wright said.
Still, Riley insists that there are too many missing pieces in the drug-testing puzzle.