Comment: Sympathy for the IAAF

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The Independent Online
UNDER the 12-year presidency of Dr Primo Nebiolo, the International Amateur Athletics Federation have become synonymous with extravagance, while athletics has drifted further than ever from the ideals of amateurism. Yet not everything the IAAF do is wrong. This week, an IAAF arbitration panel meet in Monte Carlo to hear the appeal of five-times world cross-country champion John Ngugi against his suspension for an alleged doping offence (based on his refusal to supply a urine sample for out-of-competition testing last February). The panel will also make a final judgement on former world sprint champion Katrin Krabbe and two German team-mates, all appealing against bans imposed last year after admitting taking clenbuterol.

Does anyone seriously believe that the IAAF will succeed in excluding all these athletes from competition for the periods which its regulations demand? More importantly, do many young athletes currently weighing up the pros and cons of drugs seriously believe that using them is likely to result in a career-threatening ban? Almost certainly not.

As the continuing litigation over the IAAF's suspension of former 400-metres record- holder Butch Reynolds demonstrates, driving drug-users out of sport is a complex business. Each nation has its own rules, and its own laws, all of which can too easily conflict with the IAAF's regulations. Every attempted suspension requires the observation of procedural niceties so complex that it is almost impossible not to infringe them, while the loss of earnings implied by a ban can be so immense that no top athlete will accept suspension without contesting it to the limits of the law. As a result, substantial bans are still all too rare.

What can the IAAF do? Over the years they have been accused of being too lenient (to Ben Jonson); too high-handed (over Butch Reynolds); insufficiently attentive to the procedural detail of their regulations (with Katrin Krabbe); and too literal in their application of the laws (with John Ngugi).

At the moment, the system is not working, and - except in so far as it has a general responsibility for the spiritual cynicism of amateur athletics - it is not the IAAF's fault.

Like it or not, if the world's athletes wish to compete against one another, they have to pay a price in terms of surrendering some of their individual rights. This means individual athletics associations bringing their regulations into line with the IAAF's, and governments who wish their athletes to compete internationally legislating to prevent the IAAF's efforts from being undermined in the courts.

Where drugs are concerned, the rule must be: what the IAAF says goes. Otherwise, anything goes.