September 30, 2006

Oh Sure, But Is It a Sport?

Back in the May budget the Canadian federal government proposed a Children's Fitness Tax Credit, intended "to promote physical fitness among children." The proposal went on to say that "the credit will be provided on up to $500 in eligible fees for programs of physical activity for each child under age 16."

[An eligible program of physical activity is] an ongoing program suitable for children in which substantially all of the activities undertaken include a significant amount of physical activity that contributes to one or more of cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and balance.

Of course, that still leaves a little room for interpretation. So for the last two months, an expert panel, appointed by the Minister of Finance, has been touring the country. They've been hearing from Canadians about what they consider meaningful physical activity, aiming to use that feedback to set the criteria for what should (and should not) be eligible for the tax credit.

As you might expect, Canadians think that everything their own children are involved in should be eligible. The panel has heard appeals for everything from ballet, to music and art, to "free-form play." The recommendation of the expert panel is due to the Minister on October 6.

I've written before that I don't want to get drawn into a debate about whether such-and-such activity is or is not a sport. In this case, however, we're debating whether specific programs should qualify as "physical activities."

The case for ballet seems like a no-brainer to me, although Linyee Goh takes a backhanded swipe at organized sports in the Vancouver Sun article, saying that ballet is "the best physical exercise for children, because it's both physical and mental." Unlike, say, soccer, where you just turn your brain off, is that it?

As my contribution to the debate, here are Amateur's suggested guidelines for eligibility for the Children's Fitness Tax Credit:

  • In eligible programs, increased physical activity should be seen as an accomplishment in itself. I'll concede that you can achieve a good workout by playing the violin, but you can't achieve playing the violin by just increasing your level of physical activity.
  • The incurred expense should include some element of instruction; that is, it should be something more than just the opportunity for exercise. Buying a bike or a Y membership isn't enough. And when I say instruction, I don't mean supervision — if you're paying money so that your children can engage in "free-form play," I say that's just "child care" under another name. And we know that you've already got plenty of money for that.
  • .

September 26, 2006

Rules of the Game

Scott at Timed Finals had an interesting post a few days ago about the various different sets of rules in effect at swimming competitions in the United States.

Scott examines the use of the butterfly kick in breaststroke events and points out that some young swimmers are bound by one set of rules at USA Swimming events and a different set of rules at National Federation of High Schools events. (The former organization runs the US national team and development programs, and the latter governs high school swimming competitions.)

This high school season, the National Federation Swim and Dive Rules Committee changed its rules to allow butterfly kicks, but to the dismay of many coaches and athletes, the rule is different from the USA Swimming rule. The butterfly kick - in which the leg bends and the legs move together in unison - allowed in high school swimming this year permits a swimmer to take a dolphin kick only after the arm stroke, not at any point in it.

What’s the problem then? The high school swimmers who swim for USA Swimming clubs are taught to take the dolphin kick at whatever point in the arm stroke they feel comfortable.

Scott goes on to express the opinion that the competition rules should be uniform and charges the various governing bodies "to come together to discuss these rules in order to keep everyone on a level and similar playing field."

I myself have a role in one of those governing bodies — not for swimming in the United States, but for flatwater canoe-kayak in Canada. I am currently the chairman of the committee that has responsibility for setting the racing rules for national team trials.

Members of the Canadian national canoe-kayak team have to race under at least three different sets of rules during a season:

  • Domestic racing rules established by CanoeKayak Canada and in force at regional and national championships, where athletes race for their clubs;
  • National team trials racing rules established by the High Performance Commitee of CKC and in force at national team selection trials, where athletes race for selection to international competition; and
  • International racing rules established by the International Canoe Federation and in force at international competitions, where athletes race for Canada.

The domestic competition rules are quite different from the international rules. That's partly because those rules are determined by majority vote of the member clubs of CKC, and there is no higher governing body "handing down" rules that must be followed. And partly it's because the scope and objectives of domestic competition are very different from the scope and objectives of international competition.

As I noted, I have some responsibility for setting the second set of rules. The primary purpose of the national team trials is to select athletes for international competition. To do that, we need to let the athletes perform on a fair and level playing field, and we need to collect objective data (rankings and times) that are used to make the selections. A secondary purpose of the trials is to prepare athletes for international competition. In this respect we want to simulate ICF-sanctioned regattas as closely as possible.

In general, then, we stick closely to the ICF rules (PDF) because it clearly supports the secondary objective. But sometimes strict adherence to ICF rules undermines the primary objective.

For this reason there are a very few ICF rules that we do not enforce at our trials; for example, rule 14.1:

At least three kayaks or canoes must be entered before the race can be held. …

We sometimes hold races with two crews, or even only one crew, for example in cases where a crew has yet to meet some minimum performance standard. We also sometimes hold events (usually women's canoe races) that are not yet recognized by the ICF.

This is a relatively minor variance, to which nobody objects. Other cases are not so clear-cut. Here's an example of a very unpopular ICF rule (16.3) that we do enforce at our Trials:

If the competitor does not start, and has no valid reason approved by the Competition Committee, he shall be disqualified for the whole regatta. A competitor, who arrives too late at the start, shall be considered to have voluntarily withdrawn and shall be disqualified under this rule.

ICF rule 16.3 was most famously invoked at the 1988 Olympic Games. French paddlers (and heavy favourites) Philippe Boccara and Pascal Boucherit missed the semi-final for their K-2 1000m semi-final, which was held a short time after Boccara had qualified for the K-1 1000m final. Under rule 16.3 Boccara was disqualified not only from progressing further in K-2, but also from racing the final in K-1 (more here under "Distraits," if you read French).

The rationale behind rule 16.3 is somewhat convoluted. Basically the rule tries to prevent athletes and teams from corrupting the seeded draw by entering events they have no intention of racing. In our case, most of the athletes who run afoul of this rule are young paddlers at their first trials who miss the start of their first heat and then are not allowed to race the entire weekend in any event — singles, doubles, or fours at any distance. By enforcing the rule, we are eliminating the opportunity to evaluate those athletes (and for them to evaluate themselves) against their peers. In other words, we're undermining the primary purpose of the competition. If the enforcement of the rule is not making a significant improvement in the fairness of the competition, then its only purpose is to "teach athletes a lesson" about ICF rules, and that has to be balanced off against the detrimental effects.

Other variances can arise if we start to think that an ICF rule is itself unfair or open to manipulation. Lately I've been starting to wonder about ICF rule 9.3, which concerns boat weighing and measurement following each race:

… Three or more boats according to the decision of the Competition Committee and on a random system shall be re-controlled [weighed, measured, and inspected] immediately after the race.

Usually at the trials we call four boats to boat control; if we call them "on a random system," you have a 5/9 chance of not being checked after your race, even if you win. Part of the primary purpose of the trials is to ensure a fair and objective evaluation of our athletes, and I am not sure that rule 9.3 safeguards that fairness well enough. I would feel more comfortable with a system where the top finishers are always checked — or possibly where all boats are checked.

In such an event, the committee must deal with a temptation to modify the ICF rule and make it "better." Probably something like this is sentiment is the cause of the minor rule difference that Scott pointed out from US swimming. There will always be some tension between the desire to make the rules uniform and the desire to make the rules suit your specific purpose.

September 22, 2006

Marion Jones and WADA Code Article 6.4

This week I am taking a look at three recent high-profile doping cases in the United States. In each instance I'll frame the athlete's case in terms of the WADA Code (PDF) and associated anti-doping rules. Each of the cases provides a slightly different perspective on anti-doping rules in sport.

This is part 3 of the three-part series, concerning the case of sprinter Marion Jones. In Part 1 I discussed the case of sprinter Justin Gatlin, and in Part 2 I discussed the case of cyclist Floyd Landis.

Marion Jones is a five-time Olympic medallist and three-time World Champion in athletics. She has been dogged by doping allegations for years, but had never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs until June of this year.

At the 2006 USA Track and Field Championships, Jones provided a urine sample that tested positive for EPO. A test of her B sample this month produced a negative result.

By now everybody knows that Marion Jones has been "cleared" of any doping violation as a result of her non-negative B sample. But what exactly is a B Sample, and what does the non-negative result really mean?

I have written briefly about B Samples once before, in the context of the Bernard Lagat lawsuit, but I wanted to expand a bit on the topic. Some of the consequences of a non-negative B sample are addressed peripherally in Article 7 of the WADA Code (Results Management), but the meat of the subject is covered in those International Standards we learned about in part 2. Article 6.4 of the WADA Code, "Standards for Sample Analysis and Reporting," states that:

Laboratories shall analyze Doping Control Samples and report results in conformity with the International Standard for laboratory analysis.

Let's talk about analysis of samples and reporting of results, then.

The B Sample Defined: The International Standard for Testing

The WADA Code International Standard for Testing (PDF) describes in detail how anti-doping tests are managed and performed, including the creation of the so-called A and B samples.

When an athlete produces a urine sample under the direction of a doping control officer, it is divided into two parts; one labelled as the A sample, and one marked as the B sample. The bottles are sealed separately, and then pass into the custody of the anti-doping organization.

I should emphasize that the B Sample is not really a separate sample of an athlete's urine; the A and B samples together make up a single bodily specimen, collected from an athlete at a single instant of time.

The Meaning of the B Sample: The International Standard for Laboratories

Most drug screening tests are performed on multiple aliquots, or portions, of the A sample. The International Standard for Laboratories (PDF), paragraph 5.2.4.3.1.1, states:

Presumptive identification from a Screening Procedure of a Prohibited Substance … must be confirmed using a second Aliquot(s) taken from the original “A” Sample.

So if the routine calls for testing the A Sample more than once, and the B Sample is just more of the same urine, what's the point? Why split the urine sample at all?

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the B Sample is collected and stored in a separate, sealed container. This offers at least some degree of protection against inadvertent or intentional contamination of the athlete's urine sample.

The second reason relates to an interesting rule that I didn't know about before, namely paragraph 5.2.4.3.2.2 of the International Standard for Laboratories:

The “B” Sample confirmation must be performed in the same Laboratory as the “A” Sample confirmation. A different analyst must perform the “B” analytical procedure. The same individual(s) that performed the “A” analysis may perform instrumental set up and performance checks and verify results.

So the B Sample is the same urine as the A Sample, collected at the same time, and stored and tested at the same lab; but it is stored in a different container, and tested by a different analyst, at a different time.

Still, this doesn't amount to a great deal of sample independence, and as you might expect it is pretty rare that a B Sample result fails to confirm the A Sample result (more on that later).

However, on those rare occasions, the Standards are quite clear about the result:

The B Sample result must confirm the A Sample identification for the Adverse Analytical Finding to be valid. … If the “B” Sample confirmation does not provide analytical findings that confirm the “A” Sample result, the Sample shall be considered negative and the Testing Authority notified of the new analytical finding.

Without a positive B sample, there is no positive test. This includes, by precedent, the case where the B sample cannot be tested — most famously during Tyler Hamilton's positive at the 2004 Olympics. If I can backtrack for a moment, this has important implications for Floyd Landis. As I noted in Part 2, there seems to be a possibility that the confirming B sample in his case cannot be conclusively identified as the one that he provided at the Tour de France. If that is the case, the B sample positive will probably be annulled, and Landis will be exonerated.

Getting back to Jones, the negative B sample has raised a few questions. Dick Pound says that WADA wants to look into what happened, but it's well-known that the urinary EPO test is, shall we say, imperfect. WADA has a defense of the test on its web site, but Pound's initial reaction to Jones' negative B sample says it all, I think:

It's a question of interpretation and the benefit of any doubt goes to the athlete.

Public Disclosure: WADA Code Article 14.2

Several news stories have reported that there has been only one previous instance of an EPO positive being overturned on B sample analysis, that being the Bernard Lagat case I referred to above. That might be true, but I doubt it. The fact is that many A sample positives are not publicly disclosed. In Jones' case, the initial reports were leaked to the press by unnamed USADA officials. That may have been a violation of the WADA Code, although I can't tell for sure. Article 14.2 of the Code, "Public Disclosure," states that anti-doping organizations may make public disclosure of adverse analytical findings "no earlier than completion of an administrative review of [the A sample positive]." The anti-doping organization is not required to make public disclosure of positives until 20 days after an anti-doping rule violation has been determined, which in turn requires either a B sample positive or a waiver of B sample testing.

I don't like the first part of this rule much. I agree that there is a lot of value in public disclosure as a deterrent; indeed, I think that the threat of public shame is a more powerful deterrent than the threat of suspension from competition. But public disclosure before an anti-doping rule violation has been confirmed by due process is not fair, in my opinion. People have been so suspicious of Marion Jones for so long that they're not going to feel a lot of sympathy for whatever she's got left of her reputation. But the rules state quite clearly that there are no positive tests without B sample confirmation. So why are some positive tests disclosed before B sample confirmation?

September 17, 2006

Floyd Landis and WADA Code Article 3.2

This week I am taking a look at three recent high-profile doping cases in the United States. In each instance I'll frame the athlete's case in terms of the WADA Code (PDF) and associated anti-doping rules. Each of the cases provides a slightly different perspective on anti-doping rules in sport.

This is part 2 of the three-part series, concerning the case of road cyclist Floyd Landis. In Part 1 I discussed the case of sprinter Justin Gatlin.

Floyd Landis is an American cyclist, 2006 winner of the Tour de France. A urine sample collected during that event came back positive for an elevated T/E ratio. His specimen also showed evidence of exogenous testosterone via the carbon isotope ratio test.

Last week Landis' lawyers filed a request with USADA to have the doping charges against their client dismissed. This request is based on a claim that the tests performed on Landis' urine sample were invalid.

This is an interesting contrast to the Gatlin case I discussed in part 1. Gatlin has conceded that his positive test constitutes an anti-doping violation under Article 2.1 of the WADA Code. His defense will apparently attempt to establish "exceptional circumstances" with respect to that violation.

Landis, on the other hand — and I should repeat again that I have no inside knowledge of the athlete's case, and am basing my comments on the public statements of the various parties — appears to be concentrating on Article 3 of the WADA Code, "Proof of Doping," denying that he had a banned substance in his specimen at all.

WADA Code Article 3.2

Article 3 of the Code clearly states that anti-doping organizations (the UCI in this case) bear the burden of proving that an anti-doping rule violation has occurred. The standard of proof is described as "greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt." In general, a positive urine test by a WADA-accredited lab is assumed to meet that standard. But this assumption can be challenged by the athlete:

WADA-accredited laboratories are presumed to have conducted sample analysis and custodial procedures in accordance with the International Standard for laboratory analysis. The athlete may rebut this presumption by establishing that a departure from the International Standard occurred.

If the athlete rebuts the preceding assumption by showing that a departure from the International Standard occurred, then the anti-doping organization shall have the burden to establish that such departure did not cause the adverse analytical finding.

     —WADA Code Article 3.2.1

It appears that this clause will be the crux of Landis' defense. He and his lawyers will attempt to establish that the WADA-accredited laboratory in Ch√Ętenay-Malabry did not follow the International Standard during the analysis of his urine sample from the Tour de France. I should point out Landis, as the athlete, faces a lower standard of proof than the UCI. He only has to establish a departure from the International Standard "by a balance of probability." If he is successful, the UCI will then be called upon to demonstrate that the lab's failures did not cause Landis' positive test. If they are successful in turn, then the positive test will be treated as proof of doping in spite of the departure from the International Standard. However, putting the burden of proof back on the UCI would be a significant victory for Landis. Let's see if he's likely to succeed.

WADA Code International Standards

The WADA Code International Standard for Laboratories (PDF) contains 45 pages of requirements and rules concerning the conduct of laboratory tests. Annex C makes reference to WADA Technical Document TD2004EAAS, Reporting and Evaluation Guidance for Testosterone, Epitestosterone, T/E Ratio and Other Endogenous Steroids (PDF), which is particularly relevant to the Landis case. There are a number of areas where an athlete might choose to challenge the way that their test was conducted, and Landis' lawyers have given us some hints about where their defense is heading.

Any challenge to the science of urine tests will necessarily be quite technical, but I think we can break the argument (as laid out in the Yahoo! News article) into two main thrusts:

1. The test results do not constitute sufficient evidence of exogenous testosterone under the International Standard. In particular, Landis' appeal makes some specific technical claims about the results of the carbon isotope ratio (also called an IRMS) test performed on his A sample. The Reporting and Evaluation Guidance explains that a number of different urinary metabolites and reference steroids can be measured via IRMS. Landis' team is claiming that although one of those metabolites had a 13C/12C differential that exceeded the threshold for a positive finding, the combined test results for all metabolites were not sufficient for a positive finding.

The Reporting and Evaluation Guidance is rather vague on the interpretation of results, stating only that "the results of IRMS analysis and/or of the steroid profile measured by GC/MS [the test used to measure the T/E ratio] shall be used to draw conclusions as to whether a doping violation may have been committed." I'm not a medical expert, so it's difficult to predict whether this defense will be successful, especially since I've only seen a brief summary of one side of the argument. But I think that those who want to believe that Landis is innocent (and I am one of them) can find some reason for hope here.

2. The urine tested was not Landis' specimen. When urine samples are collected, the vials containing the A and B samples are labeled with unique identifying numbers. Both vials are sealed, and then sealed together within another labeled container. The number on each sample ensures that the test results are properly assigned to the appropriate athlete, and are also supposed to ensure anonymity of the sample within the lab. The lab documentation would report the positive test by sample number only.

Landis' attorney, Howard Jacobs, claims that the laboratory documentation shows that the B sample that tested positive had a sample number that was not assigned to Landis.

Under the International Standard it is the clear responsibility of the anti-doping organization and the laboratory to ensure proper identification, documentation, and chain of custody of samples. This is critical to the integrity of the anti-doping effort. It will be extremely embarassing for the lab if it this error is confirmed.

More importantly for Landis, this would probably invalidate the results of the tests on the B sample. And if that happens, Landis is going to walk away from this doping charge.

But I'll have more to say on that subject in Part 3.

Bonus Topic: WADA Code Article 4.4

Although I don't expect it to be part of Landis' defense, I should also address the issue of therapeutic use. Earlier this week it was revealed that Landis' infamous positive was only one of thirteen at the 2006 Tour de France. The other twelve adverse findings were not reported as doping violations because the riders in question held Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for the substances in question. A doctor for the French Council to Prevent and Combat Doping expressed concern about the fact that of the 105 riders tested at the 2006 Tour, 60 held TUEs for at least one banned substance:

This statistical indication leads us to think that there are a lot of still uncontrolled excesses in the peloton. It is quite troubling. Sixty percent of medical justifications on the Tour raises serious doubts and leads one to think that they could be hiding doping

Article 4.4 of the WADA Code states that "Every IF shall ensure … that a process is in place whereby athletes with documented medical conditions requiring the use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method may request a therapeutic use exemption. … Such requests shall be evaluated in accordance with the International Standard on therapeutic use."

The International Standard for Therapeutic Use (PDF) states that a TUE will be granted "only in strict accordance with the following criteria:"

  • An athlete must face a "significant impairment to health" if the drug or treatment is withheld;
  • The therapeutic use of the drug or treatment may enhance performance only to the degree that a return to normal health would enhance performance; and
  • There must be no reasonable therapeutic alternative.

This is only a partial list of the criteria, actually, but the three points above outline the medical case that needs to be made before a TUE will be granted. Section 7 of the International Standard describes the detailed application process. The requesting athlete must provide a medical history, results of examinations or imaging studies, and statements from medical professionals. The anti-doping organization has 30 days to review the application after it is received.

For two very specific classes of banned subtances a TUE can be granted through an Abbreviated TUE Application Process. This process, described in section 8 of the International Standard, is just what it sounds like: a very simplified application for a TUE. In this case, the TUE is granted more or less automatically upon receipt of a medical notification from the athlete, stating the "name of the drug, dosage, route of administration and duration of the treatment." The process is only applicable for two categories of substances, in acknowledgement that "some substances included on the list of Prohibited Substances are used to treat medical conditions frequently encountered in the athlete population." The two substance classes are beta-2 antagonists (commonly used to treat asthma) and glucocorticosteroids (commonly used as an anti-inflammatory). Landis himself held a TUE for cortisone during the Tour de France, which he used for treatment of his hip.

At the end of the Sports Illustrated article I referred to above, the French doctor reveals that the thirteen positive tests at the 2006 Tour de France were for three classes of banned substance. One of them, of course, was anabolic steroids — we knew about one case already. Care to guess what the other two classes were?

I don't think we should to be outraged that Floyd Landis and some of his competitors hold very limited and specific exemptions required for their medical treatment. Is it surprising that more than half the riders in the peleton hold TUEs? I was surprised, yes. Is it possible that some athletes are abusing the TUE process to cheat the system? Well, it wouldn't be that hard to fake the application, really. All you would need is a cooperative doctor or two. But it would not be easy to get a TUE for the really serious stuff — AAS, HGH, EPO — under the criteria in the International Standard. If there's a doping epidemic in cycling, I think that bogus TUEs play a very small role.

September 11, 2006

Justin Gatlin and WADA Code Article 10.5

This week I am taking a look at three recent high-profile doping cases in the United States, where they stand now, and what's likely to happen next. In each case I'll frame the athlete's case in terms of the WADA Code (PDF) and associated anti-doping rules. Each of the cases is being handled somewhat differently and each offers an interesting case study to a particular aspect of anti-doping rules in sport.

This is part 1 of the three-part series, concerning the case of sprinter Justin Gatlin.

Justin Gatlin is an American sprinter in athletics, Olympic and world champion and co-holder of the world record (pending IAAF review) in the men's 100 m. At an in-competition test this past spring, Gatlin tested positive for testosterone or its metabolites. He has maintained his innocence in the case and had previously proclaimed himself "clean" on numerous occasions.

Gatlin is coached by Trevor Graham, who has a long (although circumstantial) record of association with doping. Graham had never been sanctioned for an anti-doping rule violation before this case. Gatlin had previously been punished for an anti-doping rule violation in 2002, after he tested positive for a banned prescription medication (an amphetamine) at an in-competition test.

Late last month, the USADA announced that it had reached an agreement (PDF) with Justin Gatlin, in which Gatlin "agreed to the accuracy of the laboratory results from his sample collected by USADA on April 22, 2006. Gatlin has further agreed that his positive test constitutes a doping violation and has promised to cooperate in the effort to eradicate the use of drugs from sport." For its part, "in exchange for Gatlin's promise to cooperate, and in recognition of the exceptional circumstances of his prior violation," USADA agreed that the maximum period of suspension for this violation would be eight years.

Gatlin reserved the right to appeal the eight-year ban to the American Arbitration Association (AAA). He quickly announced that he intends to do so and expects to have his ban further reduced:

I have put my faith in a system that I believe will clear my name and that I believe will allow me to compete again … I expect when that process is concluded that this entire matter will be resolved favourably … I have never knowingly used any banned substance, nor have I allowed anyone to administer one to me … Cheating, in any form, is completely contrary to who I am as an athlete and a person.

The IAAF then reminded everybody that it reserves the right to review any decision handed down by the AAA, and to appeal the decision to the CAS if necessary.

In other words, we're quite a long way from the final word in Mr. Gatlin's case, and there are a number of different ways it could go. I should say right now that I'm not privy to the evidence that Gatlin will present at his arbitration hearing, and I can only go by the public statements of the various players up to this point. I still think it's instructive to consider whether the actions of USADA are consistent with the WADA Code (the IAAF follows a consistent set of rules), and whether Gatlin has a reasonable chance of having his ban reduced.

As part of the announced agreement, Gatlin has effectively confessed to a violation of Article 2.1 of the Code, "The presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete's bodily Specimen." In this case, the Prohibited Substance is exogenous testosterone, and according to the USADA, Gatlin has waived his right to contest the fact that it was in his bodily specimen.

Since we know Gatlin's violation, we can move directly to the question of sanctions. Sanctions for doping offenses are discussed in Article 10 of the code. Specifically, the length of Gatlin's suspension from competition is covered by Article 10.2, "Imposition of Ineligibility for Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods." Article 10.2 states that the period of ineligibility imposed for a first violation of Article 2.1 shall be two years, and the period of ineligibility imposed for a second violation of Article 2.1 shall be a lifetime. It then goes on to say that the athlete shall have the opportunity in each case "to establish the basis for eliminating or reducing this sanction as provided in Article 10.5."

Gatlin served only a one-year suspension for his first violation of Article 2.1, and has now been handed an eight-year suspension for his second violation. Therefore, we can conclude that Article 10.5, "Elimination or Reduction of Period of Ineligibility Based on Exceptional Circumstances," was invoked in both cases. From Gatlin's public statements, it seems clear that he will attempt to have the period of ineligibility for his second offense reduced even further by arguing exceptional circumstances. Article 10.5, therefore, is now at the heart of the Gatlin case.

Article 10.5 outlines three different means whereby a period of ineligibility may be reduced or eliminated:

  • Article 10.5.1 states that the period of ineligibility will be eliminated if an athlete can establish that he bears no fault or negligence for the violation.
  • Article 10.5.2 states that the period of ineligibility may be reduced if the athlete can establish that he bears no significant fault or negligence for the violation.
  • Article 10.5.3 states that an anti-doping organization may reduce the period of ineligibility if the athlete has provided substantial assistance which "results in the discovery or establishment of an anti-doping rule violation by another person." That rule violation may involve possession, trafficking, or administration to an athlete of a prohibited substance or method.

There are three other important points that are contained in Article 10.5, each of which bears on the agreement between USADA and Justin Gatlin, and on what might happen in the months to come.

1. Gatlin's eight-year suspension is the minimum allowed, unless he is completely exonerated. The USADA announcement describes Gatlin's punishment as a "maximum period of suspension" of eight years, implying that the actual period of ineligibility might be less than eight years. Article 10.5 of the Code clearly states that where a sanction is reduced under Articles 10.5.2 or 10.5.3, the reduced period of ineligibility may not be less than one-half of the minimum period of ineligibility otherwise applicable. When that minimum period is a lifetime, then the reduced sanction may not be less than eight years. The only way to reduce the sanction further is by invoking Article 10.5.1. If Gatlin can prove no fault or negligence for his doping violation, he will serve no suspension at all. Eight years to life, or nothing; these are the only options allowed under the Code.

2. The exceptional circumstances of Gatlin's prior violation can have no role in determining the period of ineligibility for his second violation. In its public statements, USADA has claimed that Gatlin's ban was reduced from a lifetime to eight years because he agreed to cooperate with their anti-doping efforts, and because of the exceptional circumstances of his first violation. The former justification may be allowed by Article 10.5.3, but the second is clearly not allowed under the WADA Code.

When a period of ineligibility is eliminated under Article 10.5.1, the doping offense is not counted as a first violation when determining the period of ineligibility for any future violations. In other words, the athlete's slate is wiped clean, at least when it comes to determining the lengths of suspensions, so your next violation would result in a two-year ban. It is important to note that this same consideration is not applied when a sanction is reduced under Articles 10.5.2 or 10.5.3.

It's clear that Gatlin successfully argued that he bore no significant fault or negligence for his first offense (you can read the AAA decision (PDF) in that case here). Described in terms of the current WADA Code, the IAAF applied Article 10.5.2 in determining Gatlin's sanction, and gave him the minimum sentence allowed. They did not, however, agree that Gatlin bore no fault or negligence — they did not apply Article 10.5.1. As I noted above — and as the IAAF stated at the time (PDF, p.2) — under the WADA code this finding has no impact on determining the period of ineligibility imposed for the second violation.

3. Gatlin faces an extremely heavy burden of proof going forward. At the present time, there is no reason for Gatlin to pursue a defense of no significant fault or negligence, since the USADA has already agreed to reduce his sentence to the eight-year minimum allowed under that article. Gatlin's only viable strategy is to argue that he had no fault or negligence for the violation as described in Article 10.5.1. If he is successful in that defense, then his sanction will be eliminated completely.

The chances of that happening are very slim. First of all, the WADA Code states that in order to successfully have a sanction reduced under Articles 10.5.1 (no fault or negligence) or 10.5.2 (no significant fault or negligence) the athlete must establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system. That's difficult enough, but it's conceivable that Gatlin has a story ready. Perhaps he has some evidence to support Trevor Graham's theory that a disgruntled massage therapist sabotaged him on the day in question, or perhaps he has some evidence to present against Graham himself. Since he has promised to cooperate with USADA, it's reasonable to assume that he has something to bargain with.

However, I don't believe that either of these two hypothetical examples would get him off the hook. Here is some text excerpted from the notes to Article 10.5 of the WADA Code (emphasis mine):

To illustrate the operation of Article 10.5, an example where No Fault or Negligence would result in the total elimination of a sanction is where an athlete could prove that, despite all due care, he or she was sabotaged by a competitor. Conversely, a sanction could not be completely eliminated on the basis of No Fault or Negligence in the following circumstances: (a) a positive test resulting from a mislabeled or contaminated vitamin supplement …; (b) the administration of a prohibited substance by the Athlete's personal physician or trainer without disclosure for the Athlete …; and (c) sabotage of the Athlete's food or drink by a spouse, coach, or other person within the athlete's circle of associates. … However, depending on the unique facts of a particular case, any of the referenced illustrations could result in a reduced sanction based on No Significant Fault or Negligence.

It seems clear that Gatlin cannot satisfy Article 10.5.1 by proving that his positive test was his coach's fault, even if Gatlin did not know what Graham was doing at the time. It also seems doubtful that he could use the massage therapist as an excuse. It is a basic principle of the WADA Code that the athlete is partially responsible for the actions of those he chooses to surround himself with; if a doping violation results from their actions, the athlete's fault is reduced but not eliminated.

In Gatlin's case, a reduction of fault doesn't get him any further ahead than he is right now, which is serving an eight-year ban from competition.

It's possible that this might go in completely the opposite direction, although I doubt it. The IAAF and WADA might question whether Gatlin's agreement to cooperate is anything more than a convenient escape mechanism for USADA. The wording in Article 10.5.3 is quite specific: Gatlin must now provide assistance that results in the discovery or establishment of an anti-doping rule violation by another person. Gatlin's sanction cannot be reduced based on a promise to cooperate; it can be reduced based on the result of that cooperation. It remains to be seen whether he can deliver on his side of the agreement. I think it's unlikely that the IAAF would appeal an eight-year ban on the grounds that Gatlin hasn't actually cooperated; the practical difference between eight years and a lifetime is almost zero, and an appeal would make USADA look pretty bad. And if Gatlin is successful in arguing no fault or negligence, then his previous agreement to cooperate becomes irrelevant, anyway.

The USADA's agreement with Gatlin does smell a bit bad, in my opinion. Had they simply banned him for life, what would have happened next? Well, pretty much what's happening now. If Gatlin really has any evidence against anybody, then he'll have to present it to the appeals panel. If he wants his ban reduced, he has to argue that somebody else was responsible for his positive test; furthermore, he has to prove who it was, and how they did it. By presenting evidence against this hypothetical other person (or persons), Gatlin might succeed in having his ban reduced to as little as eight years. He might, of course, succeed in having his sanction eliminated altogether — but his chances, and his strategy, would be essentially the same as they are right now. Either way, USADA gets their evidence, and Gatlin serves whatever sentence the appeals panel feels is appropriate.

In fact, the only thing USADA appears to get out of this deal — other than the opportunity to make Gatlin somebody else's problem — is the concession from Gatlin that his positive test constitutes a doping violation. On the surface there wouldn't seem to be much doubt about that, but the point is not conceded by the athlete in every case.

But that's a subject best left for part 2.

September 07, 2006

Lose To Win

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best
   — the Little League Pledge

The Ethics Scoreboard has a fascinating story from the qualification rounds of the Little League World Series of baseball (thanks to Geoffrey Rapp at Sports Law Blog for the tip).

The Ethics Scoreboard article gives a good summary of the sequence of events, but I'll see if I can summarize the larger issue in a few words. Under the rules of Little League baseball, every player on the team must play in any game, or else the team forfeits the game. In baseball, the length of a game is not fixed; it is not a fixed length of time, and it is not even a fixed number of outs, because a team will not take its last at-bat when it is already winning. The "Mercy Rule" in effect in many Little Leagues is a further aggravating factor.

The upshot is this: under certain circumstances, a team can lose a game by forfeit if it scores or prevents the opposition from scoring; or conversely a team might win a game by forfeit if it deliberately allows or deliberately fails to score runs. So under the rules of the game, striving to win is sometimes the opposite of doing your best.

In this case, the team in the field was trying to allow a run, and the team batting was trying not to score one! Unethical behaviour? Sure. A very bad set of rules? Definitely that too.

You simply cannot have a rule that rewards competitors for playing to lose. Don't get me wrong — I like the idea that everybody gets to play, and I applaud the sentiment underlying that rule. I also understand that winning isn't everything. But really, it wouldn't be that hard to tweak things a bit. For example, let the coach satisfy the participation rule by putting players in the field for an inning. Or, if it's about playing and not about winning or losing, why not let the kids play the full six innings, no matter who's winning?

September 06, 2006

Mark Graham, 1973-2006

Mark Graham, a member of the 1992 Canadian Olympic team, was killed by a US warplane in Afghanistan on Monday. He was 33 years old.

Name: Mark Anthony Graham
Name: Mark Anthony Graham
Rank: 13th, 4×400m relay
Rank: Private, 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment
Serial Number: 35941 Serial Number: 32
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. … The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.
the Security Council … may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. … The Members of the United Nations shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council.

September 02, 2006

Beta

I'm switching to the new Beta version of Blogger. If you get surprised by some formatting issues, now you know the reason.

POSTSCRIPT: Well, that was interesting.

I think I've more or less got back to where I want to be, give or take a few small formatting tweaks. Here are a few comments for anybody else out there who's thinking of trying it.

    Pros:
  • The ability to label (categorize) posts. It will take some work to go back and categorize all the old ones, but it's a nice feature.
  • A slicker 'Archive' widget (see sidebar).
  • The ability to easily add an RSS feed from another source into your blog, which I have taken advantage of to get rid of some clumsy JavaScript that I was using. See Latest Doping News in the sidebar, and e-mail me if you are interested in the details of what I did. It's still a bit screwy at the moment but should iron itself out with time.
  • Greater ease of customization, e.g. more transparent management of link lists etc.
  • The new Blogger also provides an Atom feed of post comments. I am not making that available, see below.
    Cons:
  • First, if you want to take advantage of any of the above, you'll need to discard your old Blogger template, including any customizations you have made. That takes some time, but is not difficult for the most part.
  • However, if you don't want to use Blogger's comments, you've got some work ahead of you. I think I've managed it for HaloScan so e-mail me if you need a hand.
  • I also had a bit of trouble with the StatCounter code so if you use that I might also be able to help.
  • The new templates are quite a lot more difficult to decipher if you want to do something non-standard using the Edit HTML method. But hey, hacking wouldn't be fun if it was easy!

Verdict: If you're offered the chance to switch to Beta, and the only template modifications you've made are your link lists, and if you're willing to add each one of those links by hand into the new widget, then I'd say go for it. Otherwise, don't do it unless you feel pretty good about your Markup Language skills.

September 01, 2006

China Olympic Coxswain Competition

Somewhere there are some coxswains fuming over this, I'll bet:

The position doesn't require brawn, speed or years of training — just a healthy set of lungs and a good sense of direction. China's Olympics rowing team is searching for coxswains: two diminutive people with big voices who will steer the men's and women's teams of eight rowers in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The news here is not that China's looking for Olympic coxswains, but how they're planning to do it. The national broadcaster, CCTV, is launching a reality game show to find one man and one woman to join the Olympic team.

Most everyone (including Flash) is having a good laugh at this, and it is a pretty bizarre idea. But you know, maybe it's not that outrageous. I am not a rower myself, but I think it's safe to say that selection of coxswains for Olympic teams is always somewhat less objective than selection of rowers. Here's what Rowing Canada Aviron has to say on the subject in its 2006 selection document:

Coxswains interested in being considered for any team will be selected by the National Program Coach and High Performance Director based on the following criteria: (1) Athlete and coach input on ability; (2) Past racing experience and results; (3) Compatibility with athletes in a selected crew; (4) Willingness to support the coach’s direction.

That sounds a lot like "send us your resume and we'll set up an interview if we're interested." I am sure that the National Program Coach and the High Performance Director work very hard to ensure that the best candidates are chosen for the job, but the qualities they are looking for are pretty tough to measure.

That doesn't mean that they're trivial, of course. The way this story is being presented in the western media, it sounds like a coxswain just has to be small and loud, which is pretty insulting to coxswains. And it may turn out that the show is just as insulting, or worse. But that's going to depend pretty strongly on the details of the process.

I'm also curious about just how open the competition will be. When North Americans think of "reality shows," we usually assume that participation is restricted to amateurs or novices. Actual pop stars can't audition for American Idol, and professional chefs can't compete on Hell's Kitchen. Even sports-based reality shows like Making the Cut or Ultimate Fighter are built around collections of never-were's and almost-could-have-been's.

The tone of the WSJ piece (and this one from the CBC) makes it sound like China Olympic Coxswain Competition is going to have a similar format:

The reality show, however, will be looking for competitors who are at least 16 years old, said Nathan Jones, the international-relations manager for the program to The Sunday Times in the U.K. They should also weigh under 100 pounds and be in good health, he said, but otherwise there are few restrictions. “Everyone from the lowest peasant to old grannies can apply and can potentially be in the running for a gold medal, ” said Jones.

It's clear that they're making an open casting call, but I wonder if China's current coxswains will be part of the competition. It's not like they haven't been successful. The Chinese women's eight, with coxswain Zheng Na, finished fourth at the 2006 World Championships. Zheng Na also steered and cajoled the crew to a fourth place finish at the 2004 Olympic games. Surely, if the Chinese are serious about getting the best possible coxswain, Zheng Na needs to be included?

Now if China really wanted to push the envelope, they should try picking the rowers this way.

Back when I was in university, I dated a member of the UBC varsity women's rowing team. (In fact, I married a member of the UBC varsity women's rowing team, but this story is about a different rower.) She had started rowing in 1990, at the age of 19. In 1994 she started racing for Canada. In 1996, she won an Olympic silver medal in the eight. She added a bronze in 2000.

My point is that becoming an Olympic rower is so easy that anybody can do it.

No, wait, that's not it. My point is that people — athletic, driven, exceptional people with an incredible capacity for hard work — can become Olympic rowers even if they have no rowing experience until well into adulthood. There aren't too many sports that can make that claim.

Given that fact, it's not so far-fetched to imagine that a reality show that casts a wide net for potential candidates might actually turn up an Olympic athlete or two. If I was in charge of the rowing program in a totalitarian regime where the rights of the athletes were only of minor concern, I might consider it.

What would kill the idea, as far as selecting rowers is concerned, is that the transformation from novice to Olympian takes more than a couple of years. That's mostly because of the aforementioned hard work; you can't develop the physiological abilities of a world-class rower without an enormous training volume. That part of the process is too slow for TV, I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, the Chinese think that they can train a world-class coxswain in two years, if they start with the right material. Can they do it? I guess we're going to find out.