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IAAF playing it for laughs with Sotomayor decision

by Jack Gallagher

“We’re all created equal. Some are just more equal than others.”

It’s a line I can recall my father telling me from the time I was a small boy, whenever I questioned fairness or objectivity in a suspect decision or judgment.

The quote comes back to me occasionally, but for the past couple of weeks I haven’t been able to get it out of my head in the wake of the outrageous decision of the International Amateur Athletic Federation to cut the suspension of Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor for cocaine use in half, thus allowing him to compete in the Sydney Olympics next month.

Sotomayor, the world record-holder and 1992 Olympic champion, was originally suspended for testing positive at last year’s Pan American Games. He was subsequently banned from all competition until July 31, 2001.

I’ve seen some howlers in my days working in the sports media business, but this one has to rank as one of the all-timers. I mean how much more preposterous can it get than the world governing body of athletics saying, “Exceptional circumstances take into account the career of Sotomayor, the fact that during 15 years he underwent 300 doping tests, all negative. There were also his acts as a member of the IAAF athletic commission, many humanitarian considerations and the fact that this is his last Olympics.”

Give me a break. What’s the point of even having tests for performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, when the penalties for getting caught aren’t enforced or always have some loopholes?

The whole situation has become a total disgrace. Track and field is a great sport, though often receiving much-deserved attention only in an Olympic year, but the damage that is being done to it by each of these reversals is immeasurable. How much more ludicrous can it get?

Sotomayor’s case is even worse, because he was not attempting to better his performance through steroids, but rather blew it by using a serious narcotic in cocaine.

Let’s look at the IAAF’s justification for letting Sotomayor off the hook.

So what if he passed 300 drug tests in a row. Does that not mean he could begin taking drugs at any time and fail one? What does Sotomayor being on the IAAF athletic commission have to do with taking illegal drugs?

Humanitarian considerations? That one’s a laugher.

I can still remember the time I saw Sotomayor and Cuban long jumper Ivan Pedroso coming out of Shinagawa Station with brand new VCRs in tow after a trip to Akihabara. The pair were in Tokyo for the Toto Invitational Track Meet then and certainly didn’t look like they were in need of food, medicine or money to me. Sotomayor’s last Olympics? Break out the violin.

What little credibility the IAAF had left before this decision was destroyed just a couple of days after the Sotomayor ruling was handed down, when one of its own officials — vice president Arne Ljungqvist — told the Swedish news agency TT, “I know that he (Sotomayor) tested positive a few times. I think he should still be suspended.”

According to Ljungqvist, Sotomayor tested positive again for cocaine after on-site testing while training. “I knew about that test,” Ljungqvist said. “And it’s possible that there are more test results showing the same thing.” So much for the Cuban symbol of national pride. Those of us who have been on the inside of the sports world for years know what the real deal is. When I first heard about Sotomayor’s case I figured he was dirty on it. Now the evidence backs me up.

What has amazed me is how little attention this case has received since the IAAF’s decision and Ljungqvist’s comments. I thought there would be all sorts of fallout, calls for reform and Sotomayor’s ouster from the Olympics. But there has been nary a whimper. The news cycle on the whole story lasted about 48 hours. It’s as if we’ve all become accustomed to this type of decision and it doesn’t even register with us anymore.

The suspect policing of drug tests is not only restricted to the sport of athletics. Only last week a French anti-drug agency, the Council for Prevention of Drug Use, released preliminary findings showing that 45 percent of riders tested during this year’s Tour de France showed signs of banned substances in their urine. This after the International Cycling Union had earlier announced there were no positive tests during the race.

A bit of a gap there, wouldn’t you say? The difference between 45 percent and zero is pretty significant the way I see it.

All of this makes me wonder just how much drug abuse by prominent athletes in major sports we are not hearing about, because it is covered up. It must be substantial.

Because Sotomayor didn’t fail a test at an IAAF event, there was no opportunity to cover it up. But in my view what the IAAF did was almost worse. They had the evidence of not just one positive test, but more, and still let the guy off with some bogus logic.

Where will it all end? How are we to trust the validity of the drug tests in Sydney? What hidden agendas will affect the administering of the tests and their results?

At least we know professional wrestling comes with a script. I’m starting to think the rest of sports might as well have them too. The sham ideals of fairness, justice and a level playing field in the so-called “real sports” are becoming so blurred that I’m starting to wonder what the point is anymore.

“The decision to let him (Sotomayor) compete again is like a hit in my face,” said Ljungqvist, who says he may resign from the IAAF. “I can understand the public thinking that it’s strange that we allow doped athletes to compete again.”

Strange indeed.