BY Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, Arizona, December 18. FINA, the international swimming federation, should follow the lead of the IAAF, the international governing body for athletics (track and field).
These are words I never thought I would write, but events last week changed all that. Please allow me to explain.
In the past – from the early 1970s until the late ‘90s — FINA’s record on doping was deplorable. In the face of what eventually grew to become overwhelming, undeniable evidence, FINA refused to acknowledge that our sport had a major league doping problem. Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the publication of the massive, meticulous documentation of the state-administered doping of virtually all world-class East German athletes, and the specific doping protocols for many of East Germany’s top swimmers, all courtesy of the Stasi (the East German secret police), FINA continued to deny there was a doping problem.
In the 1990s, when evidence of systematic doping by China was published, FINA still steadfastly chose to ignore ugly reality.
In this, I should point out, FINA was no worse than the International Olympic Committee (IOC), itself. Nor was it worse than other international sports governing bodies beset with similar doping problems: track and field, bicycling, weight-lifting, gymnastics, skiing, soccer, among others. Likewise, officials in the pro sports – baseball, football, basketball and hockey – which were plagued with even greater problems of doping, also chose to stick their heads in the sand.
No, FINA was not alone in its denial of reality.
Then, in the aftermath of the drug scandals at the 1998 World Championships in Perth, FINA began to change. To his great credit, FINA President Mustafa Larfaouie, acknowledged the problem and initiated a series of effective steps to deal with the doping plague.
In no time at all, FINA was boasting that it was the leader among all the international sports federations in combating doping.
And, you know what?
They were right. FINA was the most aggressive and most effective of the federations (including the IOC). Unlike other federations, FINA really did want to clean the sport up.
Of course, there was more FINA could have done…and should have done. In fact, let me put that in the present tense: There is more FINA can and should do!
For more than a dozen years, we have been urging FINA and the IOC to invalidate past and present records recorded by swimmers known to have been doped. Who can possibly justify the continued acceptance of the current world record by China’s Wu Yanyan in the women’s 200 IM? Its continued acceptance by FINA is an affront to every legitimate swimmer in the sport.
Wu tested positive for steroids (and was banned for four years) shortly after setting the record in October 1997. Does FINA seriously believe she achieved the record (which has survived for eight years) without drugs then, after setting the record, thought to herself: “Gee, if I can go a 2:09 without drugs, I wonder how fast I can go with them? I think I’ll try some steroids”?
Aside from setting the historical record straight on paper, FINA and the IOC should award medals from the Olympics, World Championships and other major international meets between 1972 and 1998 to the athletes who actually earned them.
It would be swimming’s version of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth Commissions.
Track and Field
I began this essay by stating that FINA should follow the IAAF’s lead. “How so?”, you ask. I’ll explain.
Late last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the two-year suspensions imposed on US sprinters Tim Montgomery and Chryste Gaines for doping. Montgomery, the former world record-holder for the 100-meter run (9.78 seconds), while still proclaiming his innocence, announced his retirement from the sport.
Montogomery’s punishment was especially significant in that although he never tested positive for drugs, he was banned for doping based on evidence gathered in the criminal investigation of BALCO, a San Francisco-area lab that served many high-profile athletes. Indeed, it was Trevor Graham, Montgomery’s former coach, who first tipped USADA authorities off to THG, the designer drug Montgomery and other athletes used.
Last year, the San Jose Mercury News published details of a plan – “Project World Record” – that Montgomery and BALCO head Victor Conte devised in 2000 to turn the sprinter into the world's fastest man. The plan, which allegedly called for Montgomery to take THG, worked.
After Montgomery’s and Gaines’ suspension were affirmed by CAS, the IAAF announced it was canceling all of Montgomery’s results and awards since March 31, 2001, including his 100 meter world record in Paris in September 2002. Presumably the results of all those races will be adjusted and awards redistributed.
The federation also demanded that the $250,000 bonus he won for setting the record be returned.
Gaines, a double Olympic relay medalist, also had all her results since November 30, 2003 annulled.
Now, that’s effective action. Action that FINA should emulate.