In order for sport to exist in the public eye, you have to be able to trust what you see. You have to be able to watch events and know that when you see someone cross the line in first place, they are the genuine winner.
The past few weeks have seen some big questions marks around two of the most impressive performances on the track last year.
At the 2019 Athletics World Championships Christian Coleman won the 100m, cementing his place as the fastest man in the world. Just weeks before, the US Anti-Doping Agency had charged Coleman with missing three doping tests in 12 months. It then withdrew the case after it was proved there had been a filing irregularity regarding the date of the first missed test.
Coleman was acquitted, won the 100m at World Championships, and we all moved on. Then on 17 June 2020 it was revealed that Coleman had missed another doping test in December 2019 and he has once again been suspended.
100m world champion and Olympic favourite Christian Coleman’s missed doping tests:
6th June 2018✖️
16th January 2019✖️
26th April 2019✖️
9th December 2019✖️
After being cleared of whereabouts failures just last September, Coleman is once again facing a two year ban https://t.co/5GjJ95q553
— Julia Cook (@juliaellencook) June 17, 2020
At the same championships Salwa Eid Naser won the women’s 400m in the third-fastest time in history. In June 2020 it was revealed that she missed three doping tests in the 12 months leading up to that race. Naser has also been provisionally suspended.
In order to understand anti-doping, we must look at the procedures elite athletes go through. 365 days a year they must abide by the whereabouts system, giving anti-doping authorities an hour a day when they are available to be tested. This is to ensure that athletes can be tested anytime, any place. Three filling failures or missed tests (collectively called whereabouts failures) in a rolling 12-month period is an anti-doping rule violation and can result in a ban.
Naser has argued that it’s normal to miss three tests. At last year’s World Championships Coleman said ‘it’s just not something I think about every day,’ in response to a question about the whereabouts system. In reality should we accept these defences?
Like anything, the whereabouts system isn’t perfect. There are academics and athletes who have raised objections to it, many citing a lack of privacy. Imagine if you had to tell your employer where you were going to be for an hour everyday.
However elite athletes sign up to codes of conduct and they enter elite sport knowing that they will be tested. It’s something that comes with the job.
Can we ever justify a missed test?
Perhaps controversially, yes. Life happens. Athletes are not robots without flaws. Their lives are just as messy and complicated as the rest of ours.
There could have been an accident. Their family member could be rushed to hospital. Unimaginable events could be happening that no one could have predicted. One missed test in some cases could be completely justified.
But missing three tests in 12 months? That’s completely inexcusable.
In the case of Coleman – he’s already missed previous tests, narrowly avoiding a ban from the World Championships last year. The Olympics are next year, where he’s all but guaranteed a medal, and so why would he not be doing everything in his power to avoid missing another test?
Anti-doping authorities aren’t trying to catch out clean athletes. They have a transparent set of procedures for athletes to abide by, with the goal we should all be aiming for – clean sport. And if you’re not on board with that, then you really shouldn’t be an elite athlete.