CANBERRA, Australia, February 28. AUSTRALIAN Olympic legend Dawn Fraser is calling for a lifetime ban of the five members of the men's 400 freestyle relay who admitted to taking a prohibited substance during Australia's pre-Olympic training camp last year.
Fraser, who spoke to reporters after receiving the honor of Australia's greatest female sportswoman last night in a ceremony, said the lifetime ban would set a precedent for future punishments for all athletes who use prohibited substances.
“Those people who take drugs in sport should be banned forever, not to ever be allowed to come back into sport … especially in this example,” Fraser said.
Fraser won eight Olympic medals, including becoming the first person to win the same individual event at the Olympics three successive times. She won gold in the 100 freestyle in 1956, 1960 and 1964.
The drama took place in mid-July at the Australian swim team's camp in Manchester, England, when the six members of the men's 400 free relay made prank calls to other teammates past bedtime as part of a team bonding night that included dinner and a movie. Media reports have also stated that each member of the relay team took the drug Stilnox, which is categorized as a sleeping pill that can be addictive and cause hallucinations. The pill is not part of the banned substance list published by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but was banned by the Australian Olympic Committee.
Until last week, all six swimmers — James Magnussen, Eamon Sullivan, Matt Targett, James Roberts, Tommaso D'Orsogna and Cameron McEvoy — denied any use of the drug. But days after the release of the independent reviews of Swimming Australia, the organization announced an Integrity Panel that would look further into the incident regarding that night in Manchester. After months of public denial, five of the six swimmers admitted to taking Stilnox in a press conference, while Roberts continued to deny taking the pill.
Australia was expected to win the men's 400 freestyle relay after taking the world championship title in 2011, and after Magnussen and Roberts posted the two fastest 100 freestyle swims at their Olympic Trials. The team of Magnussen, Roberts, Sullivan and Targett that swam in the Olympic final placed fourth.
Until Fraser's statement last night, the only possible reprimands for the six that had been publicly mentioned was not getting prize money for medals won at this summer's world championships. But Fraser wants the punishment to send a bigger message.
“They should be punished severely because they are setting a bad example for the younger generation for our country,” Fraser said. “They wouldn't inspire me if I was a youngster coming up in the sport of swimming.”
Australia will be holding its world championships selection trials beginning April 26 in Adelaide.