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Make doping a crime, says Lewis

Source: bbc.co.uk

6 May 2008
By Matt Slater

Olympic legend Carl Lewis has called on governments around the world to make the use of banned substances in sport a criminal offence.

Lewis, who won nine Olympic golds during a glittering career, believes only urgent action can rescue athletics' drug-tarnished reputation.

He told BBC Sport: "If people want a clean sport, we must bring together governments, the public and athletes.

"I would change the law - if you test positive, why can't it be illegal?"

Lewis's call comes against a backdrop of doping scandals that have left athletics on its knees - a depressing scenario with the Beijing Olympics only three months away.

The list of fallen idols makes alarming reading. Marion Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics, is currently in prison and Tim Montgomery, a former world 100m record-holder, is awaiting a prison sentence.

What started in 2003 with an investigation into an obscure sports supplement firm in California - the now notorious Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) - has become a tidal wave of bad news that has wrecked the sport's credibility.

And with the trial of Trevor Graham - the coach of 2004 Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin, who is serving a four-year ban for failing a drugs test - set to start in San Francisco this month, the negative headlines are going to keep coming.

That trial looks particularly ominous. Maurice Greene, the Olympic 100m champion in 2000 and current ambassador for world athletics' governing body, the IAAF, was named by the prosecutors' main witness in an interview with The New York Times.

Angel Guillermo Heredia told the newspaper that Greene bought banned performance-enhancing substances from him in 2003 and 2004. The sprinter, now retired, denies using performance-enhancing drugs and has never failed a drugs test.

Furthermore, Graham's lawyers have described Heredia as a discredited witness who has cut a deal to "divert attention from his illicit drug dealing and the illicit drug usage by athletes".

The IAAF, however, has asked Greene for an explanation and a spokesman for the governing body told BBC Sport the American had appointed a new lawyer and was expected to reply "very soon".

But while Jones, Montgomery and now Graham have all been investigated by law enforcement agencies, it was not specifically doping that put them in court.

A few countries have considered it but only Italy has made doping a criminal offence. Most other governments, including Britain's, have limited their legislation to the illegal supply and manufacture of performance-enhancing substances.

Montgomery (who was indicted on charges of distributing heroin last week) was convicted for cheque fraud - a scam his former girlfriend Jones also participated in, although it was lying to a federal court about her doping activities that really did for her and may well do for Graham too.

Lewis, who was named "Sportsman of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee, welcomes the US government's recent efforts to tackle the cancer of drugs in sport but wants law-makers to go one step further by criminalising doping.

"We have to get people under oath and get the truth, instead of all the people who lie," stated the 46-year-old American.

Lewis, who himself failed three drugs tests in 1988 only to be cleared of any intentional wrongdoing, also urged today's clean athletes to speak out against any rivals they suspect of cheating.

"When I competed, I spoke out vehemently against drugs and everybody called me a tattletale," he said.

"But look where our sport ended up when people stopped doing that."

Lewis, who infamously lost to Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 only to later discover his rival was on steroids, is also dismissive of the idea that athletes, suspicious of each other, are using illegal substances to level the playing field.

"The problem is that people choose to cheat," he added.

"Dwain Chambers didn't have talent. He had to take drugs, he had to cheat.

"I'm tired of these people that don't have talent, that take drugs and try to blame everybody.

"The reality is that most athletes are clean, most athletes do it right and good athletes don't take drugs. People who don't have talent take drugs."

British sprinter Chambers completed a two-year drugs ban in 2005 but, despite returning to athletics and winning a 60m silver medal in this year's World Indoor Championships, he remains barred from the Olympics.

In the US, the idea of leaving sport to tackle its problems is a hot topic, largely because of Major League Baseball's doping denials.

A decade of rumours and recriminations culminated in December last year when former US Senator George Mitchell published his independent report into the illegal use of performance-enhancing substances by baseball players.

Mitchell, who also served as US special envoy to Northern Ireland and was later chairman of The Walt Disney Company, spent 20 months investigating the history of doping in baseball and his damning 409-page report highlighted the sport's head-in-the-sand attitude to steroids and human growth hormone.

"In most clubhouses there is a code of silence," Mitchell told BBC Sport.

"It's almost worse to point the finger at someone for using drugs than it is to use drugs.

"That mindset has to change as this involves more than just a person, it's much broader now. It involves hundreds of thousands of young people whose lives could be ended."

Mitchell believes a three-pronged attack - testing, investigation and education - is needed to clean up sport but he does not advocate the criminalisation of doping or too much governmental meddling.

"You use the tools you have available," he continued.

"And one of the central elements of our legal system is that you can't lie under oath. There is a huge risk for any athlete who stands up in court and lies.

"But it's also important for sports to police themselves. Sports organisations don't want the government involved and the only way they can keep the government from direct involvement in their sport is to do the job themselves.

"That's why my recommendation to baseball was for them to update their policy to make it as good as possible with the understanding this is not a static issue.

"Right now there are people in places like China, Latin America and Eastern Europe trying to find new drugs that can enhance performance without being detected. We have to change all the time.

"But having the very best testing regime does not mean you are going to be able to catch everybody - you need to have the capacity to rigorously investigate allegations of drug use unrelated to the testing regime.

"And finally, you need to have a change in attitude about the use of drugs so it does not become routine and accepted.

"You have to identify it as what it is, cheating, wilful cheating that deprives the fans and other competitors of the level playing field that sport ought to involve."

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