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StadiumWide-Rio16.JPGRio 2016 Olympics, August 12, 2016, photo by PhotoRun.net

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

It took a 19 year old Olympic swimmer to bring the hush-hush subject of performing-enhancing drugs out of the shadows and into the spotlight here at the 31st Olympic Games. USA's Lilly King, gold medalist in the 100 meter breast, did what the various governing bodies were hesitant to do: speak frankly about the covert and often pervasive use of banned substances. Referencing her Russian competitor Yulia Efimova whom the American defeated in the final, King declared, "I think it is unfortunate that we have to deal with these things in this sport. A level playing field would be preferred."

It comes as no surprise that no credible voice has favored the unchecked use of PED's. That is not the issue. The multi-faceted issues regarding PED's facing track & field - and all sports for that matter - are real and include the following:

Uniform Testing By Independent Body: It seems self-evident that the testing to ensure compliance with the constraints imposed by the governing bodies upon the use of performing enhancing drugs would require - among other things - thorough testing performed rigorously and uniformly by an unimpeachable, independent examination team. Can we be at all surprised that self-auditing by the respective federations has been conducted at differing frequencies with widely-varied levels of thoroughness and - I might add - questionable degrees of integrity? Shifting to a credible independent world-wide examination would be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking which would require nearly-universal buy in. But can any meaningful inroads on curbing PED use hope to be made without it?

Courage To Act By Governing Bodies: The development and implementation of an effective testing program - while an essential first step - would be for naught if it is not also accompanied by vigilant governing bodies willing to take timely and appropriate action upon uncovering violations. As has been seen - even recently - those entrusted with ensuring a level playing field have not only been inconsistent in uncovering violations, they have too often dawdled in the presence of damning evidence of violations - promoting delays unfair to athletes under suspicion and emboldening other cheating performers by unwittingly suggesting that revealed violations will not be handled swiftly.

Thorough And Thoughtful Development Of Appropriate Consequences: For some, the question of what is the appropriate consequence for each and every drug violation is easily answered: it is a life-time ban. Others recommend a more benign approach, a suggesting catalog of progressive consequences that would punish, to be sure, but would range from more lenient to more severe depending upon the facts surrounding each individual case.

Consequences Uniformly Applied: This is a tricky issue upon which there are varying viewpoints. It all swirls around the relevance of mitigating circumstances. There are the strict constructionists who believe in either one or both of the following: (i) mitigating circumstances are irrelevant when addressing a PED violation; and (ii) established violations warrant a life-time ban - period. Others take a more benevolent position, suggesting that mitigating circumstances (e.g. age, prior record of compliance, remorse, degree of cooperation, etc.) deserve considerations in handling these matters on a case-by-case basis. This is a segment of this complicated topic which deserves - and to date has not benefitted from - a thorough, far-flung, and open discussion where our sport should stand on this.

Pathway To Redemption In Selected Circumstances: There is a broad array of views on this point. On the one hand, you have the Lauren Fleshman view that unwaveringly declares that any and all drug policy violators should be banned for life. At the other extreme are those with a more compassion view, who believe that in select circumstances certain athletes who have committed a PED violation, endured the consequences, served their punishment, shown contrition, and made the necessary life changes should be offered a pathway to redemption. The case for the second chance has been well articulated by Ato Boldon who - when addressing Justin Gatlin's hard-earned return to the sport after serving a four year suspension for a drug violation - responded rhetorically by asking if a young man in any other walk of life strayed off the path, made mistakes, endured consequences for his conduct, served his punishment, returned to turn his life around, made amends, and began performing at a high level, would we be celebrating his transformation and achievement?

There is much work to be done here in properly addressing this complicated issue and the varying views which abound. But above all, a full, complete, and effective approach to police the use of performance enhancing drugs in track & field - and in all sport for that matter - must avoid the trap that historically has undermined similar noble efforts - namely, that when all is said and done, more will be said than done. Only through an unwavering commitment that embodies both analysis and action can the sport truly achieve clarification of the problems and the issues, thoroughness and independence in testing, courage in governance, appropriateness in consequences, uniformity in their application, and maybe - just maybe - a pathway for redemption when mitigating circumstances warrant it. Let's get started.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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