JOA boss swears J'can athletes are not deliberate cheats
Fennell's head on the block
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — He is prepared to accept that some athletes are naive to the point of being foolish, but head of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) Mike Fennel is insistent that Jamaican athletes are not deliberate drug cheats.
"I will maintain none of our athletes set out to cheat," Fennell told the Rotary Club of Mandeville at the Golf View Hotel on Tuesday.
"Some of them (athletes) may be caught up with indiscretions, taking supplements that they should not take, maybe you could say they are foolish but in terms of what we are trying to prevent which is cheating in sport, I am prepared to put my head on the block that none of our athletes set out to cheat," declared Fennel.
"We need to educate them and assist them in understanding how to play by the rules," said Fennell, who is in his 38th year as head of the JOA.
Education was absolutely important Fennell said because Jamaica's dominance of sprint events in recent years has placed the country under the global "microscope".
"We can't be that good and not expect to be under the microscope," Fennell said.
A rash of positive drug tests for Jamaican athletes, including top sprinters Veronica Campbell Brown, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson last year, cast a long shadow over the country's athletics programme.
Word came over recent days that Campbell Brown has been cleared of doping allegations by the International Court of Arbitration in Sports. She is now free to compete after being forced to miss much of last year's athletics season, including the World Championships. Hearings into other cases are ongoing.
Fennell declined to comment on the Campbell Brown case on the basis that the formal submission of the Court of Arbitration explaining the reasons for their judgement should be awaited.
Regarding proposals for drug testing of teenaged athletes, Fennel suggested the emphasis should again be on education.
"I don't think we need to do wholesale testing (of school-age athletes), but we have to recognise that when those young athletes are selected to represent the country in international competition they are going to be tested so we need to prepare them (and educate them) properly," he said.
Crucially, said Fennell, athletes needed to be told that the "edge" they sought from nutritional supplements - the ingredients of which were often very difficult to determine - could be had from proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
"We need to educate them on the one hand about things that are prohibited... but the most important thing in the education of those athletes is to convince them that they don't need any of those things (supplements)," Fennell said.
The JOA head told Rotarians that the monitoring of supplements was made particularly difficult because it was a huge, multi-billion US dollar industry which was largely unregulated — to the extent that labels were often false indicators of content.
He noted that in Australia, the authorities had responded by simply insisting that athletes should not take supplements.
However, said Fennell "we have to recognise that we live in a (global) society ... where supplements are the order of the day... there are thousands and thousands of supplements... there are supplements for growing hair, losing weight and doing the other things..."
"You can buy a supplement with a certain label and buy another bottle with the same label, but it has other ingredients in it. You can't go by what's on the label."
That said, Fennel conceded that "vitamins are classified as supplements and there are some athletes, because of the extreme pressure, do need (those) supplements to restore minerals and other stuff in their bodies".
In such cases, the JOA head said, athletes should take any such supplement for scientific testing before use.