How justice loses its way in moral maze

The Jockey Club cannot enforce the law directly... their position is roughly equivalent to that of a teetotal eunuch at a backstage party for Judas Priest

The thought would probably strike you, when you heard that disabled Olympic athletes gathering in Australia had been busted for drug abuse, that modern sport had reached the furthest margins of policing. Here is a ruthless moral code being enforced by the highest of technologies, giving irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing, with the process being rounded off by instant exclusion and a fixed-term ban. Not since the Witchfinder Generals plied their trade has such summary justice been enacted on those who found themselves accused of a contemporary version of devious sorcery.

The thought would probably strike you, when you heard that disabled Olympic athletes gathering in Australia had been busted for drug abuse, that modern sport had reached the furthest margins of policing. Here is a ruthless moral code being enforced by the highest of technologies, giving irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing, with the process being rounded off by instant exclusion and a fixed-term ban. Not since the Witchfinder Generals plied their trade has such summary justice been enacted on those who found themselves accused of a contemporary version of devious sorcery.

So what was your reaction? That these offenders deserved to be caught and punished, despite their disability? Or that the authorities had gone completely over the top?

Personally, I couldn't resolve my reactions to the news. I felt a shiver of revulsion at the thought that the same instinct to cheat which so dogs the professional arena could also be at work at this supposedly selfless and noble level of sport. There was a certain sense of moral outrage - how could they do it, these of all athletes? And then the sympathy kicked in, and a sense of what desperate depths must have been plumbed by people who had already been dealt the wrong cards in life.

But then it has been quite a week for moral confusion over the process of justice in sport. In horse racing, the biggest doping and betting-fraud trial for ages was suddenly terminated by the judge at Southwark Crown Court. After hearing the prosecution's case - that five men had conspired to dope two horses and then benefit from these acts in the betting ring - Judge Christopher Elwen intervened before the defence could start and announced that the defendants had "no case to answer".

The five accused - all regular racegoers and punters - were officially declared "not guilty" and freed to go about their normal business. Except for the fact that, at the time of writing, they remain "banned persons" as far as the Jockey Club are concerned, and therefore cannot enter any of the country's 59 licensed racecourses.

The Jockey Club, racing's governing body for most of the sport's history, relinquished many of their administrative duties to the British Horseracing Board in the early 1990s, but they insisted on retaining responsibility for discipline and security under the umbrella concept of "racing's integrity". It was deemed that their experience in these matters, and inside knowledge of the day-to-day politics and shenanigans of the sport, would be superior to any newly-created authority that would have to "hire" staff. In any case, the Jockey Club was a League of Gentlemen, who knew where to find the right types to keep an eye on racing, principally in the form of former Army intelligence officer Roger Buffham, who was made head of security.

Buffham had some good ideas, but the knives are out for him now that the case has collapsed. Buffham's detractors cite the fact that he had largely driven the investigation of this case, advising the police on evidence and names, which resulted in no fewer than 16 people being arrested during the process. Experienced jockeys such as Jamie Osborne, Dean Gallagher and Graham Bradley became brusquely acquainted with that well-known female police officer Dawn Raid, who also swept Old Etonian trainer Charlie Brooks into her arms at one stage.

Eventually, all the racing personnel arrested and interviewed by the police were released without charge, the logical assumption being that whatever evidence had initially aroused suspicion could be discounted. The case was left with just the five punters to face the music. But neither the Jockey Club, nor the police, nor the Crown Prosecution Service, could orchestrate enough noise to produce a conviction, despite the proven fact that the two horses, Avanti Express and Lively Knight, had been doped.

Of course, it didn't help that the act of doping a horse is, as yet, not an illegal act. Nor was it much assistance that the policemen fronting the case had only a rudimentary knowledge of racing and betting. Behind these failures lay the structural fault of the Jockey Club's position, roughly equivalent to that of a teetotal eunuch at a backstage party for Judas Priest. Unable to enforce the law directly, the Club could only fall back on the sort of Victorian legal processes that depended on coves looking shifty or disreputable enough for the jury to convict on sight. The only sanction available to them was the banning, or "warning off", of the men in the fashion of the traditional racecard warning that "the management reserves the right to search individuals, refuse admission and remove any person from the racecourse, without assigning a reason for so doing".

Well, I'm no legal expert, but I wouldn't give long odds on a sanction such as this surviving the scrutiny of the new Human Rights Act. This leaves racing, as a major, multi-million-pound sport, dangerously exposed to further abuse unless the correct package of due diligence, enforceable laws and effective policing is achieved. But can the Jockey Club still deliver these?

It has to be said that the element of skulduggery in racing is greatly exaggerated, not just in reality, but also in the popular imagination. Crime novels by ex-jockeys do well in the book charts, convincing the public that every time a favourite is beaten there must be a villain involved. But this comfort should not encourage complac-ency. An old lag of my acquaintance described the inherent paradox of racing's appeal: "While not everybody who goes racing is a criminal, all criminals go racing."

It seems, then, that it is up to Parliament to enact new legislation to protect racing from criminal infiltration, and to set up a supervising authority with the same sort of clout that the Gaming Board enjoy over casinos. An extension of the use of surveillance cameras at racecourse stables must also be enacted, and with the proficiency of modern equine medicine, there is no excuse for long delays in any confirmation that dopers have been at work. There must at least be the possibility of a mobile testing unit being available to racecourse vets.

There could even be a confidential hotline set up along police lines, allowing individuals in the know - trainers, jockeys, bookies or stable staff - to alert this authority to any suspicious moves. "Horsestoppers" springs to mind as a name.

However, there is probably less likelihood of the International Cricket Council's latest idea to combat corruption being taken up by the racing authorities. This involves the completion of a five-question declaration by players, umpires and officials. Framed in the sort of terms once used by the House Un-American Activities Committee during their 1950s witch-hunt against communism, this appears to be a startlingly naïve document for dealing with the intrusions of illegal bookmakers and assorted weather- "swamis".

Players are asked whether or not they have ever "met or come to any arrangement with anyone in the game of cricket that might involve corruption in any form". Clearly this belongs in the same area of cloud-cuckoo-land as the Jockey Club's "warning off" procedure. Cricket has already been "Warne'd" of sinister collusion between bookies and players looking for a bit of bunce, and it will need substantially harder policing than wishful thinking to stop it.

Most sports are vulnerable to malpractice now that betting and doping have become such global elements. But the appearance of disabled athletes in the dock reminds us that the authorities must have the power, and the will, to catch the mackerel as well as the sprats.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible