Doping rules need updating

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Marijuana lingers in your system for a month, at least, but Michael Phelps' pot pic will haunt him way longer than that.

The American swimmer's historic eight Olympic gold medals from Beijing are now overshadowed in the public's eyes by a grainy photo of him presumably smoking marijuana. The image has zoomed electronically around the world, and Phelps has spent the last few days apologizing profusely for his mistake.

Oh, if only he were Canadian. Phelps won more gold than our entire Olympic team. But also, our athletes are so much better informed -- we actually have an entire website devoted to pot-smoking athletes, www.maryjayne.info.

"Are you a Canadian athlete who smokes pot?" asks the site. Mary JaYne (that's not a typo, there's a funky capital Y in there) is here to answer your questions on anti-doping testing procedures and the consequences of marijuana use."

Wearing a lime green t-shirt and sun hat with long brown pigtails resting on her shoulders, Mary JaYne explains everything athletes need to know about pot.

Namely, rules and consequences. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the national anti-doping agency, is hosting the straight-talking site because more athletes are testing positive for cannabis than for any other prohibited substance. In 2004-05, 80% of anti-doping rule violations were for cannabis alone or in combination with another drug.

It advises: "Pot, weed, grass, hash. Whatever you call it, cannabis is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances."

Cannabis has been prohibited since 2004 because, the agency says, its use presents health risks and violates the spirit of sport.

A first-time positive test for pot can range from a warning and reprimand to a one-year period of ineligibility from all sports in the Canadian Anti-Doping Program. Testing positive a second time gets you sidelined for two years and a third positive gets a lifetime ban.Active athletes are doing well to keep quiet on the Phelps story, since there's nothing to be gained by chiming in. Yet even among the vast majority who aren't inhaling, just keeping themselves administratively in line with the strict anti-doping requirements can be stressful.

That's because the World Anti-Doping Agency's newly-revised rules require top athletes to guarantee their whereabouts for one hour every day. They have to log in to a website to do so, noting where and when they'll be available for testing. Failure to do so can result in a doping infraction.

A group of about 60 Belgian athletes is challenging the rule in court, calling it an invasion of privacy. Tennis player Rafael Nadal agrees, calling the revised rules "intolerable harassment," adding athletes should not be made to feel like "delinquents." Athletes also have to fill out a form on a quarterly basis outlining their schedule for the upcoming three months. If they ever change their plans, they must notify anti-doping authorities. An attempt to do this at the end of last year had Canadian triathlete and Olympic medallist Simon Whitfield beside himself with frustration before he left for a training trip in Hawaii.

"My reputation and livelihood depends on me filling out this form correctly, adjusting and updating it accurately to indicate where I will be 365 days a year," Whitfield wrote on his blog on Dec. 30. "Yet I challenge anyone to figure out how to fill out these ridiculously user unfriendly, poorly designed, ineffective, hell grossly incompetent forms. Please CCES, I'm begging you, fix the system."

Looks like it's happening. In response to Whitfield's plea and complaints from plenty of others, too, the CCES is hosting a full-day athlete focus group on Monday in Ottawa, to enable athletes to suggest improvements to the system and make it more user-friendly. So far it's recruited four athletes to take part, and the centre is working the phones to try to get that number up to 10. It pledges to take the session's feedback to the World Anti-Doping Agency so they can fix their forms.

Because it's one thing to be caught in the act, but yet another to be stymied by the system when you try to comply.


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