By Steven Downes
Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association who spent much of last summer in the High Court fighting a legal battle to stop a drugs cheat from competing for the country at the Beijing Games, has called for “considered reflection” on doping bans because he feels that the two-year suspension, reportedly for cocaine use by England rugby international Matt Stevens, is wrong.
The former Conservative government minister, who maintains he is a life-long advocate for drug-free sport, was speaking as guest of honour at the Hockey Writers’ Club annual awards lunch in London. He used the platform to suggest that the World Anti-Doping Agency needs to refine its current appeal and penalties system to be more discriminating with offenders.
“Matt Stevens was not someone out to cheat his sport,” Moynihan said.
Moynihan stressed that he had in no way changed his position that anyone who uses drugs to gain an advantage in their sport should be banned for life from representing Britain at the Olympic Games, reminding the audience of his stance last year when sprinter Dwain Chambers tried to overturn the BOA’s controversial bye law.
“But it is time for considered reflection by WADA. Their appeal system needs to be strong but also reflective of the offence,” he said. “They need the power to consider the difference in magnitude between offences.”
WADA, partly funded by governments as well as the International Olympic Committee, has “recreational drugs”, including marijuana and cocaine, included on its banned list in part to satisfy civil legal requirements around the world, where use or possession of such drugs are criminal offences.
In the case of 26-year-old Stevens, who tested positive in an out of competition test last November, the Bath prop forward who played for England in the 2007 World Cup final has admitted that he has “an illness and a problem” and is seeking counselling. There has been no suggestion that the prohibited substance that Stevens tested positive for was in any way “performance enhancing”.
The responsibility for conducting a disciplinary hearing and applying the WADA code in this case falls to England’s Rugby Football Union and UK Sport.
Moves for a National Anti-Doping Organisation to be established, independent of funding and governing bodies, have stalled, with no announcement from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on funding. Originally, it had been stated that in order to be fully operational in time for the 2012 Olympics, NADO needed to have been launched by last October.
In a wide-ranging address, Lord Moynihan also expressed his desire to ensure that Britain’s medal count at the 2012 London Games is more broad based than in Beijing. With funding announcements for the next four years on eight Olympic sports expected before the end of this month, Moynihan cited hockey as an example: “You have to support sports that have real medal potential.”
He said that in Beijing, four sports had provided 60 per cent of Britain’s Olympic medals. “Some sports in which we will medal in 2012 are not being fully funded.
“I am convinced that the tremendous boost we received in Beijing can be built on.”
Mindful of his audience – hockey at school level is predominanly played at independent schools – Moynihan repeated his aim to extend sporting success at Olympic level well beyond those competitors who had been fortunate to attend independent schools. “Sixty per cent of Britain’s Olympic medallists have been won by those who went to private schools – yet only 7 per cent of kids in this country attend independent schools. The legacy of 2012 has to be to harness the talent of those 93 per cent of kids who attend state schools.”
The principle award-winners at the Hockey Writersâ€™ Club awards, staged at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge, were the goalkeepers for Great Britainâ€™s menâ€™s and womenâ€™s teams who placed fifth and sixth respectively in Beijing â€“ Ali McGregor and Beth Storry.