Protecting sport or an infringement of human rights?

Kate Smart Columnist

By Kate Smart, Kate Smart is a Roar Expert

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    Over the weekend, the ABC reported on changes ASADA and the AOC are considering in the ‘fight against doping in sport’.

    The controversial proposal to force all athletes and officials to truthfully answer any questions from Australia’s anti-doping body or face exclusion from future Olympic Games sparked animated discussion amongst sports fans.

    John Coates, the AOC president, was quoted on the ABC’s news website as saying, “Failure to co-operate with and assist ASADA, in every way, can result in an athlete or official being ruled out of an Olympic team.”

    Coates’s proposals have the backing of Federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy, who was quoted by the same news report as pushing for these policies being adopted internationally.

    So, is this attitude an over-reaction to doping scandals in cycling, AFL and NRL or are these proposals a reasonable tactic for stamping out cheating athletes?

    The main problem with Coates’s and Lundy’s argument is that it assumes all athletes and officials are guilty of doping.

    This surely is a smack in the face for those of us, and I assume it is most of us, who adhere to our societies fundamental viewpoint that people are innocent until proven guilty.

    Doping is a sad reality of sport but at the same time we have to ensure that those who participate in sport are afforded the basic rights afforded to all citizens.

    To my knowledge, and I am no lawyer, but the presumption of innocence is a basic right. The onus is on those prosecuting you is to prove your guilt.

    I think we have to assume athletes and officials are innocent of doping until an allegation is made and an investigation carried out by authorities makes a ruling, based on the evidence collected and a fair hearing.

    Then there is the question of how would such a policy be implemented?

    Presumably, if you are a doper, then you are someone who is already lying and therefore, one more lie to the AOC wouldn’t be out of the question.

    I’m obviously not an athlete, but if I was doping to get ahead of the competition, then I would possibly be firm in the belief that I’m not going to get caught anyway, so why not just tell the AOC whatever they want to hear. What have you got to lose?

    And quite frankly, who would voluntarily admit to doping in these circumstances?

    I think if there’s one thing we hopefully all have learned from these doping scandals, it is that drug cheats rarely come forward unless they are backed into a corner where there is no way out. And let’s face it, even then the truth doesn’t always emerge.

    There’s also the argument, and this may be a little perverse, but isn’t the current system of investigating and chasing down drug cheats the very thing that drives new scientific tests and investigative powers in the fight against doping?

    If everyone just signed a stat dec proclaiming, ‘Oh no, I’m not a cheat’, then we would no longer need advances in scientific testing and increased investigative powers for bodies such as ASADA. Clearly they would become obsolete.

    Am I the only one with images of Neville Chamberlain in 1937, waving a document with Hitler’s signature and the promise of not going to war?

    If anything, this trip down the path of history reminds us that those with questionable intentions can sign whatever we ask them to, but that doesn’t mean that signature is worth anything.

    There is no doubt that governments and sporting bodies have a duty to investigate and sanction dopers and drug cheats, but it must be done within the spirit of the laws that all citizens live under.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • May 8th 2013 @ 8:56am
      Elisha Pearce said | May 8th 2013 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      Good viewpoints, Kate. I don’t know about human rights issue, but its definitely an issue.
      As you say it’s a hint of guilty until proven innocent.
      It also set up people to tell more lies to get away with things. I don’t know what the point of saying “you must tell the truth” is anyway. Surely it would be common sense that people are expected to tell the truth about drugs as it stands now?
      Do we have to set up “now you really have to tell the truth” type zones? And if you didn’t tell the truth then ultimately they’d need to prove that still. Very strange thing to try and put in place.

      • Columnist

        May 8th 2013 @ 5:38pm
        Kate Smart said | May 8th 2013 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

        Thanks Elisha,

        Sorry for not responding earlier, am on Giro time!

        I agree that the suggestion of a a violation of human rights is quite an extreme viewpoint. I thought it was interesting how people were using this term on social media in relation to this.

        You’re completely spot on when you say that it’s common sense that people are expected to tell the truth about drugs as it is.

        I also think we have to be sure not to create knee jerk reactions to drugs in sport cases. I think level headedness and learning from past mistakes is the best course of action.

        Thanks again for your response. It’s always good to hear form you.

    • May 8th 2013 @ 10:29am
      Matt F said | May 8th 2013 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      I think the human rights bit is a bit much but it is an interesting debate nonetheless.

      I don’t have a major issue with the proposal. It doesn’t say that they have to plead guilty, just that they will have to cooperate. They can still claim innocence if they wish, they just couldn’t refuse to answer questions or refuse to turn up to interviews. I would imagine that, if they’re innocent, then this shouldn’t be an issue for any athlete. The proposal really doesn’t have much to do with guilt or innocence, merely cooperating with ASADA when asked.

    • May 8th 2013 @ 11:36am
      Chui said | May 8th 2013 @ 11:36am | ! Report

      “Failure to co-operate with and assist ASADA, in every way, can result in an athlete or official being ruled out of an Olympic team.”

      Am I missing something? All this is saying is, if you don’t co-operate you don’t get a start. How is that a presumption of guilt?

      If I was subpoenaed by a court, I am compelled to co-operate and give testimony. I might be a third party witness. Does that make me guilty of something. If I don’t comply, I am in contempt.

      Sounds like the same process to me.

      • May 8th 2013 @ 5:57pm
        Millard Baker said | May 8th 2013 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

        It is essentially the same. But to give the court system that power is one thing. To give an agency promoting a moral crusade is another.

        How would an individual like the Church to have the power to legally compel its members to cooperate fully and answer any and all questions about indiscretions (as the religion defines them) in their sexual behavior and the indiscretions of everyone they know?

        It’s quite extreme to give a morally-driven group this type of power.

    • Columnist

      May 8th 2013 @ 5:43pm
      Kate Smart said | May 8th 2013 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

      Matt F and Chui,

      Thanks guys for your comments. It’s probably easier to respond to both of you together.

      I think it’s an interesting one. I’m not sure if it is appropriate to label this as a human rights violation either, but plenty were on social media over the weekend.

      I do have to disagree with you though that what’s being suggested is a simple honesty system and that the signing of a piece of paper will ensure honesty from drug cheats. I think we need to learn from past drug scandals and based on what I’ve been reading, especially about cycling/Lance Armstrong, is that this measure would be more counter productive, than productive.

      Let’s learn from the past and put in place proactive measures that ensure everyone involved is treated to a fair hearing.

      Thanks again fro your responses.

    • May 8th 2013 @ 11:11pm
      midfielder said | May 8th 2013 @ 11:11pm | ! Report

      Great read …. Think you are right

    • May 9th 2013 @ 8:58pm
      Richard said | May 9th 2013 @ 8:58pm | ! Report

      Human rights violation…that’s an over-reaction. There are alot more serious and real cases of human rights violations going on in the world right now other than signing a piece of paper to say you are clean, to receive funding or whatever and to represent your country. Doping in cycling is not an isolated incident of one or two riders. I am happy to go through the list of sports that have been affected and continue to be affected but i am sure you are aware of them. Lets face it, there are those in sport who will try to cheat. The manufacture of performance enhancing products won’t cease and there is big money and big rewards for those involved. I personally take comfort in the fact that the majority of sportspeople don’t seek to gain an advantage through performance enhancing products but I am also not naive enough to think that all sportspeople are clean and that it will go away anytime soon. In saying that, I am not sure if this is the answer and think it needs to be thought through a little more. I do think biological passports make sense.

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