By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – The one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could open the door for convicted drug cheats to compete for medals, an issue that will need to addressed, United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart said on Tuesday.
“This was an issue raised on a call of national anti-doping agencies from 21 countries today,” Tygart told Reuters. “It is one of many complex issues that will have to be thought through and determined now that the Games have been postponed.”
Currently, there is no exception for extending an anti-doping sanction for postponed events if the athlete or coach has served their ban when the competition takes place.
Tygart has held a long-standing position that those who have been sanctioned, like twice banned United States Olympic and world 100 metres champion Justin Gatlin, have under today’s rules served their time and are eligible to compete.
There are now new questions that some athletes, whose bans prevented them from competing in the Tokyo Olympics, will have the opportunity to do so due to the change in dates.
If an athlete has served his or her ban and is denied a chance to qualify for an Olympic spot it is almost certain that such a ruling could be challenged in court.
With no precedent, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) may have to consider a structure like that used by Major League Baseball, where a player suspended during the season for a performance-enhancing drug violation is not eligible for that year’s post-season.
“Athletes are well aware of the challenges we now face with ensuring a level playing field,” Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an advocacy group for athlete rights, told Reuters. “It has been a major concern and a topic of discussion over the past several weeks.
“As anti-doping agencies navigate these uncharted territories they must engage athletes as a part of the solution.
“Athletes have the most to lose when cheated by others. Therefore they must have a collective and equal say on how we move forward to protect clean sport.”
The doping question is sure to be one of many for the IOC, Tokyo organisers and WADA to address after IOC president Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Tuesday that the Games needed to be delayed for a year due to the threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
WADA will implement an updated Code in January 2021 but told Reuters that even under new rules there are no provisions to prevent a banned athlete from participating at the Tokyo Games next year if they have completed their suspension.
“Periods of ineligibility imposed under the World Anti-Doping Code are for specific lengths of time and include all competitions which take place during that period,” WADA said in a statement given to Reuters.
“There is no provision in the Code for Anti-Doping Organizations (ADOs) to cherry-pick periods of time in which the athlete would have more or fewer events to compete in.
“While an athlete cannot choose when he or she would like to be ineligible, an ADO cannot either.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ken Ferris)