Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, July 21. DO I think Cesar Cielo took a banned substance to enhance his performance? No. Do I think Cesar Cielo took Furosemide in order to mask his intake of a performance-enhancing drug? No. Do I think the Court of Arbitration for Sport should have ruled Cielo — and his three Brazilian teammates — ineligible for a period of time? Absolutely.
As you have almost certainly read earlier this morning, CAS ruled today that the warning given to Cielo, Henrqiue Barbosa and Nicholas dos Santos by the Brazilian Swimming Federation was enough of a penalty for the triumvirate testing positive for Furosemide at the Maria Lenk competition. Vinicus Waked was slapped with a one-year suspension because it was his second positive test.
In its defense, the threesome argued that the Furosemide was ingested because of cross-contamination in a caffeine supplement taken by Cielo, Barbosa and dos Santos. When the CAS panel ruled in favor of Cielo and Co., it cleared the way for Cielo to defend his titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle events at the World Championships, where swimming competition gets under way on Sunday. Seeing Cielo on the blocks will be disheartening.
From baseball to cycling to track & field to the long history of swimming, doping has been a major issue. No, I don't think Cesar Cielo was trying to cheat, despite the fact that Brazil doesn't exactly have a stellar record of late in the doping arena (there have been several positive tests from the country). Still, athletes are told all the time that they need to take responsibility for what they ingest, and now Cielo is let off the hook. A nasty precedent has been set.
In the days ahead, how many times do you think an athlete will fail a doping test and come up with the all-too-easy reply of, "Oh, there must have been contamination?" It's going to happen a great deal and, in situations where a penalty is unleashed, the athlete will be able to appeal the decision because of the precedent set forth by CAS in the Cielo case.
Many swimmers have taken to social-media outlets today expressing their disgust and anger over the Cielo verdict. Rightfully so! You can't blame the person who will step on the block next to Cielo and wonder, "Is this guy really on something? Is the playing field really equal?" And if Cielo wins another gold medal in international competition, you can't blame the crowd if they hold off on applause because the fans just aren't sure.
A uniform ruling is much needed in the sport, and it's a simple one. If you test positive for a substance that is on a banned list, you're going to be hit with a suspension. Maybe athletes will think a few more times before diving into the supplements game. Is it harsh? Maybe. But it's also the only way to make sure all are treated equally and drugs are not part of the sport.
This is a sad day for the sport, and the timing of this scenario is unfortunate because the focus in Shanghai should be on the talent of the athletes and the quality racing that will undoubtedly unfold. Instead, there will be questions about Cesar Cielo and whether he should even be there. CAS could have taken care of matters. Instead, it choked.