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.

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