Delays In Drug Cases a Concern
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Several cases involving U.S. athletes charged with doping violations have continued for more than a year, frustrating the athletes whose careers have been put on hold and angering anti-doping officials prosecuting the cases. Both sides are calling for immediate changes to the adjudication system.
The urgency of the problem was illuminated earlier this month when sprinter LaTasha Jenkins was exonerated 17 months after testing positive for a steroid. While awaiting resolution in her case, which was delayed several times before arbitrators declared her not guilty because of lab errors, Jenkins stopped training and took a full-time job. A track and field agent estimated that she lost more than $100,000 in income.
"From a practical standpoint, she won," said sports agent Renaldo Nehemiah, who does not represent Jenkins. But "when you are  years old and a year and a half is taken away from your career, at that point, you basically lose."
The problem -- which officials say has been limited to only a handful of recent cases -- has angered attorneys and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials alike because anti-doping rules were intended to prevent drawn-out legal proceedings when they were revamped after the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency and USADA seven years ago.
When an athlete fails a drug test, he or she has a right to a hearing to challenge the result. The applicable U.S. arbitration rules require panels to resolve cases "promptly" and no later than 10 days after a hearing is closed.
U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Communications Officer Darryl Seibel said the USOC was "concerned" about the delays and is taking immediate steps to address the problem with the American Arbitration Association, which handles all U.S. anti-doping disputes, and its own decision-making bodies. USADA General Counsel Bill Bock said reforms were "critical for the athletes and the perception that the process is fair."
"It seems to have gotten everyone stirred up, but everyone agrees it needs to be fixed," USOC ombudsman John Ruger said. "There is no controversy about that."
Officials say arbitrators have skirted deadlines by keeping cases "open" long after hearings take place, effectively buying themselves more than the allotted 10 days. The officials cited a 20-month-old ongoing case involving reigning Olympic 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin as one of the most egregious examples. Gatlin, who faced an American Arbitration Association panel to contest his April 2006 positive test for a steroid five months ago, still has not received a decision.
Gatlin's three-day hearing ended Aug. 1 and was not formally "closed" until last Friday.
"This is arbitration run amuck," said one sports official who requested anonymity.
Gatlin, a client of Nehemiah's, maintains that he was sabotaged and hopes to compete at the 2008 Summer Games. The panel's failure to close his case irked USADA officials, who sent four letters to the arbitrators requesting a prompt decision, according to several sources. Gatlin's Chicago-based attorney, John Collins, also sent a letter to the panel this month, according to sources, but declined to join with USADA in earlier letters because he feared upsetting the people who controlled his client's fate. Collins declined to comment for this article.
The highly publicized case involving cyclist Floyd Landis also took more than a year to resolve. An arbitration panel found him guilty of doping during the 2006 Tour de France by a 2 to 1 margin in September, four months after his hearing.