LaShawn Merritt, doping, and the Olympics
This past Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) invalidated the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) rule 45. This rule was designed to prevent athletes that had convicted of a doping offense and received a ban of over six months from participating in their sport at the next Olympic games.
The challenge was brought by the U.S. Olympic Committee, (USOC) on behalf of LaShawn Merritt, the defending 400m Olympic champion and 2009 400m world champion. The challenge was also backed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as well as anti-doping bodies from several other countries. USOC argued that the rule was tantamount to double jeopardy, because the Olympic ban by the IOC was an additional and separate punishment from any ban delivered by a national governing body, and there was no method for appealing an IOC ruling.
Merritt accepted a 21 month ban, which ended in July of this year, after testing positive for DHEA in late 2009. He embarrassingly admitted that he had unknowingly taken the steroid, the source of which was a male-enhancement product. He has been in competition since his ban expired and took 2nd in the 400m at the world championships this year.
While I, and many other U.S. Track and Field fans will enjoy watching Merritt run in the 2012 Olympics, others are not so happy, particularly the British Olympic Association (BOA). BOA has a similar rule to IOC’s rule 45 although it does allow for an appeal where an athlete can try to show that there were mitigating circumstances or that the offense was a minor one. BOA has requested that CAS state that its ruling not apply to individual National Olympic Committees. BOA’s response to the CAS ruling can be found here.
While I understand IOC’s and BOA’s desire to have the Olympics be a clean event (as they should be), I think that an outright ban on any athlete who has served a doping suspension is extreme. Keeping athletes like Merritt, who accidently/mistakenly ingest banned substances and/or are remorseful and repentant not only robs the athlete’s of their sport’s grandest competition and the Olympics of its greatest athletes, it also draws an unfair line where clean athletes who have served their time are kept from competition.