We understand the sentiment of Dr. Herb Elliott the chairman of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission, who wants to make the close staff of athletes equally culpable when their charges fail drug tests.
We, however, believe that any such adjustment of the rules demands deep thought and robust debate lest it have the unintended consequence of trampling on the ideals of natural justice.
In any event, while there may be merit to Elliott’s proposal, the system is not now entirely without mechanisms to sanction support personnel who help athletes to cheat. It is for them to be more robustly applied.
Our starting point, as is also implied by Elliott’s intent to widen the net to cover support staff, is that the athlete who dopes or otherwise consumes banned substances rarely acts on his/her own devices. They usually have sophisticated support systems and other enablers.
Law focusses on athletes
But while Jamaica’s anti-doping law, under which JADCO functions, has, among its objectives, protecting the right of “athletes and athlete support personnel” to perform in a drug-free environment, it is only the performer who, under the law, is specifically subject to sanctions for breaking the rules.
Says Section 10 (1) of the law: “… (T)he athlete shall be liable for the presence of any prohibited substance, or metabolites or markers found in his body.”
The law, at Section 10 (2), does, however, acknowledge — and mark as doping violations — that the use of illegal substances may be encouraged in athletes and may be trafficked in and/or administered by persons other than the athletes who consume these substances.
In that regard, amendments to the law, to make such persons directly subject to the discipline of JADCO, may well be desirable.
But it cannot be, as Elliott seems to suggest, that such persons would automatically face sanctions because of the guilt of an athlete with whom they might be professionally associated. That would run counter to natural justice.
Support staff, therefore, would have to be specifically implicated in the infraction and protocols/mechanisms established, perhaps similar to those now available to athletes, to facilitate their defence.
No need to wait
We, however, do not have to await such changes to the anti-doping laws before the book can be thrown at support staff, such as coaches.
For instance, the global body for athletics, the International Association of Athletics Federations, as well as national associations like the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association, maintains codes of discipline to which all who fall within their ambit are to adhere. Among the offences are aiding and abetting drug taking by athletes.
Should an athlete, therefore, be found guilty of a drug offence, an implicated coach, or some other support personnel who needs to operate under the broad umbrella of, say, the JAAA, could be brought before a disciplinary hearing and, if guilty, sanctioned.
Additionally, there are laws governing the management of pharmaceuticals, as well as the medical and related professions. People who break these laws, such as if they inappropriately dispense drugs or misrepresent themselves, can be prosecuted.
We should, if necessary, amend the JADCO law. But we don’t have to wait until then to aggressively go after all the cheats.