Jamaican sprinter Steve Mullings, who celebrates his 29th birthday on Monday, November 28, was recently sentenced to a lifetime ban from athletics by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCo) for testing positive for Furosemide. The decision was made by the commission’s three-man panel after hearing arguments from Mullings’s attorney.
Mullings was absent from the proceedings, and JADCo refused to accept videotaped testimony on his behalf. The body also refused to accept signed affidavits from Mullings and his Mississippi State University coach, Steve Dudley. The testing occurred at the Jamaican National Championships in June this year, when both of the athlete’s A and B test samples returned positive results. This was the second time Mullings was found to be in violation; he was banned for two years (2004-2006) for testing positive for a high level of testosterone while he was a student at Mississippi State University.
But while we all may agree that athletes are ultimately responsible for anything that goes into their bodies, one can’t help but be skeptical of JADCo’s handling of the proceedings. Did the panel make its decision to ban Mullings prior to hearing the case? Why didn’t JADCo allow the evidence presentation by affidavits or teleconferencing or video-recording? In essence, was the hearing procedure fair to Mullings?
Caribbean people have zero tolerance for drug cheats, and the excellent track and field infrastructure that encourages the athletes from the primary school level to the university level leaves little room for athletes to entertain thoughts of cheating. Mr. Mullings is a product of this system, having been a student at track and field powerhouse Vere Technical High School, before attending Mississippi State University. He is aware of the consequences of having banned substance in his system, the buck stops with him. Nonetheless, I think Mullings got a raw deal. There is no doubt that he deserves the penalty if he transgressed, but he is entitled to due process.
Did JADCo Act Hastily?
JADCo had the simple task of deciding the fate of an athlete who was found to have used a banned substance for the second time. The obvious verdict: a lifetime ban for Mr. Mullings. However, JADCo in its haste to banish him may have been high-handed and short-sighted, when it refused to accept evidence via video-conferencing or affidavit from the athlete. The rules clearly state that those media are acceptable means of presenting evidence in a hearing. Making the necessary concession would probably have done little to change the outcome of the case, but now we will never know. The decision not to make that concession has opened the door for Mr. Mullings and his legal team to challenge the November 21 ruling.
JADCo’s swift action in punishing Mr. Mullings can be seen as somewhat justified, even though it dragged its feet in the early stages. Mr. Mullings’s legal team has brought certain crucial issues to the forefront in regards to the collection, custody and transportation of his samples. The testimony of the doping officer seems to support Mr. Mullings’ claim that he was “set-up,” as his samples were left unattended for extended periods of time, and were stored in an area which was below the level of acceptable protocol, and for which the aforementioned officer had no access.
Such unaccountability could have lead to anyone’s tampering with the samples. In addition, when the samples were sent to the Canadian testing lab, it was opened in the absence of the doping officer who had sealed it. If these allegations are true, this constitutes a valid ground for Mr. Mullings’ team to question the integrity of the samples.
An athlete is ultimately responsible for anything that goes into his or her body, but he or she has no control over the procedure involving the custody or transportation of the sample once it is given to an independent officer. Another lesson learned is, don’t assume that because video and teleconferencing technology may be at your disposal, that the technology is available everywhere or that everyone is prepared to use it. And lastly, in reality there is no such thing as an air-tight case.
Mr. Mullings was found guilty and received a lifetime ban for allegedly using the illegal substance, which acts as a masking agent for the use of other drugs. The question is: did they discover the drug he was masking or hiding? His attorney, Alando Terrelonge, said “there was no evidence before this panel to indicate that Mr Mullings either deliberately took a drug to enhance his performance or mask the presence of other drugs that he was taking to enhance his performance."
The apparent absence of any performance-enhancing drugs in Mr. Mullings’ system may mean that the Furosemide was either very effective in its masking function or that there was no other drug for the Furosemide to mask, in which case the career of a possibly innocent man is cut short. One thing is sure, if Mr. Mullings wasn’t “set up”, only he truly knows the answers to the questions, but if he was, only the perpetrators know what really happened. What's your opinnion on the case?