Cloud over Jamaican athletics

By Diane Abbott

 THE problems with allegations of Jamaican athletes doping continue to rumble on. I wrote on these pages some time ago that, unless the Jamaican government stepped up and acted decisively, there was danger of permanent damage to “Brand Jamaica”. This may yet prove to be the case.

Jamaica’s testing programme first came under scrutiny in July when five athletes, including Asafa Powell, failed drug tests. Then the former executive director of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) Renee Anne Shirley accused Jamaica of lax testing of Jamaican athletes in the months leading up to the 2012 London Olympics.

At the time, Ms Shirley’s claims were treated with anger and scorn in Jamaica itself. The chairman of JADCO, Dr Herbert Elliot, spoke for many Jamaicans when he described Shirley as “a bit demented” and a Judas.

But Shirley’s allegations continue to carry credibility overseas. Since then, Usain Bolt has spoken about how he has lost potential sponsors because of anxiety about the alleged problems. Three top World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials have travelled to Jamaica to audit the anti-doping effort. And the American media has not given up on the story. Most recently The Wall Street Journal published an article questioning the academic qualifications of Dr Elliot.

Apparently WADA has asked both the UK Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency to assist JADCO to see if they can raise standards. The UK was unable to assist because it is doing similar work with the former Soviet state of Belarus. So the United States Anti-Doping Agency has taken up the task.

In an interview with the British Daily Telegraph the head of the US agency, Travis Tygart, said: “What we are not going to participate in is another charade. We’ve attempted since 2009 to work collaboratively and we still remain open to that. But we need a firm commitment from the top, the leaders of that country, that they are actually going to take action this time. At the end of the day, this is tough work, and will and determination is what is necessary to fully protect athletes. We have offered to send a staffer down for an extended period of time. We have offered to host them again at our offices and to send a team down again.”

Jamaica does not want to have its drug-testing efforts described as a charade. And the note of cynicism and exasperation in the remarks of the head of the United Stated Anti-Doping Agency is a concern.

There is no question that American pride was been hurt by Jamaican triumphs in athletics and this partially explains the enthusiasm with which American media outlets have been chasing the story of problems with Jamaica’s drug-testing regime.

But Jamaica must act to dispel the cloud over its reputation when it comes to this matter. It owes it to the nation, to the current crop of world-beating athletes, and to the brilliant crop of schoolboys and schoolgirls coming up who will be the next generation of Jamaican athletic superstars.

— Diane Abbott is the British 

Labour party MP for Hackney 

North and Stoke Newington

Courtesy the Jamaica Observer

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