Olympic Embarrassment: Steroid Double Standard

An article in the November 2, 2005 edition of The New York Times points out the hypocrisy of Olympic and world anti-doping officials regarding the Italian anti-doping law. “Steroid Laws: Equal Justice And Punishment for All,” by Selena Roberts, offers much food for thought [abridged version]:

Steroid Laws: Equal Justice and Punishment for All
by Selena Roberts

Who is the role model for criminal behavior?

There is a 40-something health-club barfly who wakes up with mirrors over his bed and sleeveless T-shirts in his closet. The guy owns a tackle-box full of steroids that he purchased over the Internet in hopes of bulking up just enough to pick up the ladies.

There is an elite athlete who wakes up with mirrors in his home gym and a closet full of lucrative endorsement deals. The sports star has a paid trainer who administers steroids so he can find an edge to shatter records and gain wealth.

Where does a police raid take place — health club or clubhouse? Whose home is ransacked by the police — the gym rat’s or the sports star’s?

”It’s the truck driver, the guy working at the Stop & Shop — as narcissistic or misguided as they might be,” said Rick Collins of Long Island, who specializes in steroid law. ”These are the lives destroyed by the steroid laws.” Collins’s clients are not sports icons, because athletes haven’t been the targets of steroid possession laws, even though their using prompted the Anabolic Steroid Act of 1990 and 2004.

Players are the cause of steroid criminalization by the Beltway gang, but aren’t treated as criminals. Instead, politicians treat them to scoldings and threats and timeouts in the corner. Once again yesterday, members of Congress feeling frustrated by the inaction of pro leagues in strengthening antidoping policies reintroduced Olympic-style legislation to standardize testing and toughen suspensions. Suspensions are not based on the legal system, but on a morality code for elite athletes who are idolized by malleable youth.

”It’s political,” Collins said. ”It’s easier to go after the regular guy rather than expose our heroes.”

Sports icons are not granted immunity everywhere. Italy is one example. And this scares the O-rings off the International Olympic Committee just 100 days before the Winter Games in Turin. The same I.O.C. leaders who trumpet zero tolerance for drug cheating spent last week pleading in futility for Italian authorities to relax their punitive antidoping laws, which send offenders to jail for three months to three years. ”It is a question of sporting ethics,” the I.O.C. president, Jacques Rogge, said Friday, ”rather than a question of crime and criminality.”

If true, then why did Dick Pound, I.O.C. member and chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, rip into the light prison sentence Victor Conte, steroid designer to the stars, received in the Balco case? In one reference, Pound called Conte’s plea deal a potential ”cop-out on a cosmic scale.”

Pound has spent a career mocking cheating athletes for blaming dastardly opponents and tainted supplements for the fly in their soup. But now he is offering his ample breath to conspiracy theories, openly fretting about potential setups by saboteurs who would lure police officials to a competing athlete’s steroid stash.

Why the use of selective paranoia and desire for boutique-style justice? It goes to self-preservation. First, the I.O.C. doesn’t want its pristine Winter Olympics tarnished by images of pixie skaters removed from the ice in leg irons or of snowboarders escorted from the halfpipe in handcuffs. Second, the I.O.C. can’t fathom losing control over its antidoping program after pouring years into the creation of the W.A.D.A. All that time creating a uniform drug standard. All that effort to get every national Olympic committee on board. And now the W.A.D.A. is irrelevant? And now the police want to police? ”The Italian law criminalizes sports cheating,” Collins said. ”It hits the intended target.”

No one wants to see athletes forced to turn in their U.S.A. berets at the police desk. No one wants to see a sports figure working out in a prison yard. … But shouldn’t a doping violator — whether he is in the N.F.L. or whether she is a figure skating star — have to answer to authorities? How about answering one question: Who is your supplier? This is not about the steroid law itself, but about the equal application of it for everyone, from the anonymous store clerk hooked on vanity to the visible sports star hooked on glory. ”It’s incredibly hypocritical,” Collins said. ”It’s a bait-and-switch. The very people the laws were enacted to apply to are now asking to be exempt. There is something wrong with that. The antidoping officials pushed for tougher laws as long as the laws didn’t affect the athletes. ”I can’t think of one elite athlete who has been prosecuted on steroid possession. There is clearly a disconnect.” This disconnect is in the mirror of the steroid user. One reveals an athlete, the other a criminal.