The Best Journalist In The World – But

The best swimming journalist in the world is Craig Lord from London. And not just because he writes for one of the world’s most respected newspapers – The Times. Although that does help. He is also the principal author behind the respected Facebook swimming blog, Swimvortex. The causes Lord has championed have made a real difference to the sport.

Almost alone he took on the swimming establishment and had flotation swimsuits banned. I argued against that reform. My view was that the suits were no different from any technological advance. Rubber athletic tracks, fiberglass polevault poles, rubber cushions in a high jump pit, ledges at the back of starting blocks, backstroke starting ledges and floatation swim suits – what was the difference? And I was wrong. The sport is fairer and better now that the suits have been banned.

Craig Lord has also led the world in demanding improved policing of drug cheats. He has stood firm in opposition to performance enhancing drugs through the excesses of East Germany, Russia and China. He has highlighted the inaction of WADA, FINA and the IOC. Swimming and sport in general is a cleaner and better place because of the courage of Craig Lord.

Most recently Craig Lord has been a leading public voice encouraging professionalism in swimming. He has seen the appalling exploitation of swimmers and has given his support to initiatives aimed at providing the world’s best swimmers with a fair slice of the money cake. Good swimmers need to be paid. Craig Lord has made it his business to make sure they are.

As you can tell I am a Craig Lord fan. Swimming needs people like Lord with the courage to identify a need for reform and set about making change happen. They say bad people get away with bad things when good people do nothing. Bad people are not going to get away with much when Craig Lord is around.

But he has argued one recent case that I believe is wrong. It could be that, like the swim suit saga, Craig Lord may turn out to be right. However here is the case for the opposition. I think I am stating Craig Lord’s position correctly when I say he is of the view that the South African runner Caster Semenya should be banned from all competition because of her natural high level of testosterone. In putting that case Lord is agreeing with the IAAF who has banned Semenya from competing unless she takes drugs to reduce her testosterone level to what the IAAF considers to be “natural” for anyone calling themselves female.

I disagree with the IAAF and Craig Lord. Every Olympic champion has physical advantages. Normally those advantages are called “talent”; qualities the gifted are born with that give them an advantage over others. Of course Semenya’s testosterone is an advantage – so what. Why is that any different to Phelps’ extra long arms or Usain Bolt’s unusually long legs? Are world governing bodies about to rule on how long arms and legs can be to qualify as human?

But most of all I object to the enthusiasm with which Craig Lord and the IAAF have become drug cheats. For years Craig Lord and the IAAF have preached their condemnation for athletes who take drugs to alter their performance. Without qualification I agree with that position.

The WADA code is not only clear, it is accepted by Craig Lord and the IAAF. This is what it says.

The purposes of the World Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Program which supports it are:

• To protect the Athletes’ fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport and

• To ensure harmonized, coordinated and effective anti-doping programs at the international and national level with regard to detection, deterrence and prevention of doping.

The position of the WADA code is clear. Sport must be “doping-free”. Sport must have processes in place that detect and prevent doping.

It is simply impossible for Craig Lord and the IAAF to argue that they support the WADA code; that they promote dope-free sport when they trumpet loud and long their wholehearted support for ordering Semenya to take drugs to alter her performance. Their support of a drug free sport is a naked sham.

In fact there is merit in the view that Craig Lord and the IAAF should be investigated and sanctioned for ordering and encouraging an athlete to take performance altering drugs. Of course the IAAF will claim that their order was not performance enhancing. So what? WADA’s code does not refer to performance enhancing. What Lord is supporting and the IAAF are ordering is performance altering. That is all that matters.

I recall articles written by Lord that condemn the doctor, Ba Zhen, who was involved with Sun Yang’s obvious cheating. I am aware of the condemnation of BALCO for supplying American baseball players with steroids. But is the behaviour of Lord and the IAAF in the case of Semenya all that different? They are ordering an athlete to take drugs for the purpose of altering her performance. Drugs are drugs. For Ba Zhen and BALCO read Lord and the IAAF.

You see, I don’t care what the purpose of taking the drug is. I don’t care whether the drug is designed to speed up or slow down. Once we start debating the reasons for taking performance altering drugs more and more exceptions will be allowed. Doping free means doping free no matter how loud or long Lord and the IAAF argue that their exception must be allowed.

When it comes to drugs you are “all in” or “all out”. It is a slippery and steep slope when you begin to make exceptions for the administration of drugs that support a cause you happen to like.

And finally the argument that ordering the doping of Semenya is fine because the IAAF and a Court in Switzerland have legitimized the order is nonsense. Many horrendous acts have had official state approval. A brief reading of world history through the 1930s and 1940s will confirm that is true. Because the IAAF says doping Semenya meets with their approval does not make it right.

The IAAF and Lord need to stand by the WADA code; “to protect the Athletes’ fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport.” And that includes Castor Semenya.

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