This is an archive copy of a document originally located at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/sportsf/stories/s1038355.htm


ABC Radio National's THE SPORTS FACTOR

The Sports Factor: 6 February  2004  -

The Return of the Capuccino Kid ... and a certain leg-spinner!


Warwick Hadfield: Welcome to the Sports Factor.
Next week Shane Warne returns to competitive cricket after serving a 12-month suspension for using a banned substance, to wit, a slimming tablet that Warne claimed his Mum gave him.
Having done the time for his crime, should the event be put in the past and the player welcomed back with open arms, or should the Ďdrug cheatí stigma stick, and if so, for how long?
Weíll talk to an ethicist and a sports management expert later in the program.
But first, the long road back for another athlete whoís rebuilt his career and his life after a positive drugs test
In August 1988, a happy and optimistic Alex Watson set off for the Seoul Olympics to compete in the modern pentathlon. This is the sport devised by the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Itís based on the notion of a Napoleonic military messenger having to ride, fence, shoot, swim and run his way back to headquarters. According to the Baron, it was meant to test a manís moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills.
Events in Seoul certainly tested Watsonís moral fabric, and to the core, but hardly in the way he planned.
John Coates: Early yesterday morning the IOC Medical Commission delivered to our room in the Village notification that the first urine sample from Alex was positive. Alex informed the IOC that he had consumed 10 to 12 cups of coffee, which he had obtained at the venue on the day. I have been told that to record such a high level of caffeine from a normal consumption of coffee, would render one violently ill and unable to participate in the competition.
Alex Watson: I must say firstly that I am entirely innocent. I have never taken drugs, other than whatever caffeine there is in coffee and Coca Cola, and I took no prohibited drugs in Seoul.
Warwick Hadfield: Alex Watson at a press conference after being sent home from Seoul. And before him, John Coates, the Chef de Mission of the Australian team in 1988 and now Australiaís most senior Olympic official.
I was at that announcement in Seoul, and I remember well the disbelief that filled the room.
As a result of the positive sample taken during the fencing part of the Pentathlon, the IOC disqualified Watson from the Olympics. The International Pentathlon body imposed a two-year ban on him, and an embarrassed and irritated Australian Olympic Federation banned him for life.
That meant he could never represent his country again.
It all came as an unholy shock for Watson, who was not just a capable athlete, but a respected promoter of the Olympic movement here in Australia.
Alex Watson: It was kind of an unreal feeling. It was like I was going to pinch myself and wake up, and this would all have been a bad nightmare. And 10 oíclock that morning, as we were flying out, forced to fly out, thatís, you know the run was starting in which I should have been a strong contender for a medal. So the whole thing had a real feeling of unreality about it, and because I was really just as confused as the AOC as to what possibly could have happened. And I guess in their shoes, I canít blame them for the actions they took at the time.
Warwick Hadfield: You got on the aeroplane, and youíre obviously feeling this air of unreality, but between Seoul and Hong Kong, reality must have hit you, because you then got to Hong Kong and turned around and came back to Seoul and went back into the Village to talk to those officials again.
Alex Watson: I knew in my heart that I had done nothing wrong. So I knew that I was being unfairly dismissed from competition, and thereís got to be some explanation. What it was, I wasnít sure. I felt someone could have spiked my drinks, that seemed a reasonable possibility, but I was really angry and confused and very angry about the fact that having a good strong competition with a chance to win Australiaís first medal in this sport, that I was being taken out of the game.
Warwick Hadfield: And you came back, and you suggested that someone might have spiked your drink; what was the reaction to that from the Olympic officials then, people like John Coates and the rest of the team?
Alex Watson: Oh well, they were furious.
Warwick Hadfield: With you?
Alex Watson: Yes.
Warwick Hadfield: They didnít want you there.
Alex Watson: Well as far as they were concerned, at this stage Iíd done the wrong thing, Iíd tried to cheat, Iíd failed a drug test, I was a disgrace, and they didnít want to hear from me, they wanted to concentrate on athletes who were still in competition and rightly so.
Warwick Hadfield: And how did you feel about that?
Alex Watson: I was really hoping that right up until when I was kicked out that the phone was going to ring and someone from the IOC laboratory was going to go, ĎOops, sorry, we got the wrong sample.í
Warwick Hadfield: Now you eventually did come home to Australia. What was the reaction when you got off the aeroplane in this country, given that you were by now labelled very much a drug cheat?
Alex Watson: Well I was met by a gentleman from the Federal Airports Corporation who Ė thereíd been a press conference set up at the airport, and I remember getting off the plane, and he said to me, ĎHave you ever done a press conference?í and I said, ĎOh, Iíve done some media interviews and things.í And he said, ĎWell I hope youíre ready for this, because thereís a room jam-packed with all of Australiaís media.í So it was pretty daunting.
Warwick Hadfield: And did you get the grill? I mean obviously when youíre in the public spotlight like that, and the media turns out, did you feel the intensity of their questions?
Alex Watson: I felt that everyone was really looking at me eyeball-to-eyeball, just trying to get a gauge of ĎLook, is this guy on the level or is he telling us lies?í
Warwick Hadfield: When did you make up your mind not to accept what was then a life ban, and what processes did you put in place then?
Alex Watson: Well I never accepted that I should have a life ban, or any ban, because as I said, I knew in my heart that I had not tried to cheat, and anything that had happened, had to be an accident or a mistake, and so right from the word go I was fighting it. But really, the breakthrough came when Professor Don Birkett, from Flinders University, came out publicly of his own accord and basically contacted The Australian newspaper and said, ĎLook, Iím reading all this stuff, I donít have any real interest or background in sport, Iím a scientist. But I can tell you everything the AOC and the IOC Medical Commission are saying about what this guy must have done to breach the caffeine test is a load of nonsense, and I can prove it to you.í
Warwick Hadfield: Birkett and his colleague, Dr John Miner, were able to do just that. Through Minerís wife, a fencer, they were aware of the culture of coffee drinking in that sport during competition.
And through their own research they knew that a reading like the one Watson recorded in Seoul, 14 milligrams per litre, could in some people, be reached by drinking as little as three or four cups of coffee.
Suddenly the tide of public opinion turned away from the Olympic movement and in favour of Watson.
Kevan Gosper: Having considered all the matters, the Board considers that Alex Watsonís disqualification by the International Olympic Committee in Seoul was in itself severe punishment. Since then, the necessary drawn-out processes added to the personal anguish that heís clearly suffered. Accordingly, today we decided not to apply a life ban, which leaves Alex Watson to be considered for selection in future Australian Olympic teams.
Warwick Hadfield: His life suspension reduced to two years by Australian Olympic officials, and the criticism of those officials by a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Drugs in Sport, did much to restore Watsonís reputation.
But it wasnít without its costs. At times he became both angry and depressed, as he fought to clear his name.
And despite the assistance of an uncle who was a highly qualified lawyer, his legal bills still reached six figures. All up, it was an expensive lesson in life.
Alex Watson: The thing I think that really helped me was being a sportsperson because when I got really depressed, what I did was, I went out and I ran, or I rode my horses, or I actually went to swimming training. My people in my swim squad stood by me. Some people were absolutely marvellous, they just carried on and supported me as though it had never happened, and so I had a close circle of friends and I tried to just lead a normal life. And the thing that really helped was also going out into places, the local shops. I went into a supermarket a couple of days after I was home, to get some groceries, and people just came up to me in the supermarket and said, ĎWe know you didnít do it. Fight the bastards.í And I never had one person in public ridicule me or come up and verbally abuse me or anything. So that gave me a great feeling of support.
Warwick Hadfield: ĎDrug cheatí; thatís a stigma that sticks. When do you think people are going to say, ĎAlex Watsoní without thinking of the rest of that, Ďdrug cheatí; Ďsent home from Seoulí. Will that ever happen, or will that always be part of your life now?
Alex Watson: Well I donít think you can ever escape being the Cappuccino Kid, itís a nickname thatís probably going to stick with me forever. But itís turned around into really largely a positive.
Warwick Hadfield: Testing positive, to turning into a positive.
Alex Watson: Yes. I mean it is. I mean I have Ė after it all was cleared up. The only thing itís on the records still that I failed a test and was sent home from the Games. But I turned it around and went back and made the Olympic team in í92.
Warwick Hadfield: On January 1st this year, the new World Anti-Doping Authority, WADA, released its first list of prohibited substances. Missing was caffeine.
I asked the head of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, John Mendoza if this was an admission there were flaws in the Watson case.
John Mendoza: Itís more an admission or a recognition that caffeine is used in many societies as part of the standard sort of food and beverage consumption, and in fact what we now know about caffeine, which we didnít know in 1988, is that the performance enhancement effect is actually best, if you like, thereís a mild stimulant effect, but the effect is a positive one when itís about half what the actual banned level was. And if we were to take it down to a 6-nanogram per ml level, it would simply mean that athletes could not consume caffeine products and thatís a very wide range of products, not just coffee, in their day-to-day lives. Now that is unrealistic, and itís unnecessary because the effect is a very mild stimulant effect. So commonsense I think prevailed there, and weíve seen caffeine removed from the list.
Warwick Hadfield: Both John Mendoza and John Coates say Watsonís disqualification will never be overturned by the IOC even though many now believe it was unjust.
They argue that the offence occurred under the rules of the time.
But Alex Watson hasnít given up hope entirely.
Alex Watson: Iíd like to see that happen. I mean letís face it, if that happened, thatís also a plus for the AOC, because it means one of their athletes who was supposedly kicked out of the Games, found guilty, wasnít. So itís a plus for Australian sport too. But I think John is alluding to the fact that reading between the lines, as he knows as well as I do, heís now an IOC member, just how difficult it is to take the IOC on. Itís virtually impossible. I mean we tried to take them to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in The Hague, the court that they set up. But the rules of the Court of Arbitration for Sport are that both parties must agree to have the matter heard. We were agreed, but they wouldnít agree to go to their own court, because they know their legal people told them, ĎLook, if this guy proves his case, you threw him out of the Olympic Games. Youíre leaving yourself wide opení, and thatís exactly why they wonít play ball. I mean the Parliamentary Committee into Drugs in Sport highlighted this aspect and said the IOC have failed their own test of integrity. But the fact is, when they pull the shutters down and wonít play ball, theyíre bloody impossible to deal with because you canít pin them in any country, youíve got to rely on their co-operation,
Warwick Hadfield: Alex is this the end of it all, and I presume in 2004 youíve come to grips with it as best as youíre ever going to. If someone said to you, ĎHow do you feel about the whole incident now?í how do you sum it up?
Alex Watson: Iíd sum it up as a life-changing experience, because it taught me to not believe everything you hear and see, and not judge everything on first case; look behind the scenes and also it taught me the value of family and true friends, because, to put it bluntly, when the shit hits the fan, itís the people who stick by you, theyíre the people that really count. Thereís lots of back-slappers and lots of well-wishers when youíre on top of the world. When I won the show-jumping on Day 1 in Seoul, I had people saying, ĎOh, wonít it be great when you win the Gold Medal and your life will change, and what a great guy you areí, and when the shit hit the fan two days or three days later, there werenít many of them around.
Warwick Hadfield: Former Olympic Pentathlete, Alex Watson. The IOC was unavailable for comment on this case.
Now to Shane Warne. And typical of the bloke, the 12 months of his ban have not been without their controversial moments.
Warne had wanted to continue to train with his Australian and Victorian team mates, and also to attend official cricket functions.
The Australian government felt otherwise, and even threatened to withdraw around $3-million in funding to Cricket Australia if Warneís ban was not absolute.
But now his timeís up, how should we treat Shane Warne?
Simon Longstaff is from the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney: It depends a bit on how serious you think it is that people succeed without cheating, and the extent to which you believe sport is supposed to be some kind of fair contest between reasonably matched individuals. If you think that it is supposed to be fair, and particularly if the sport itself trades on the notion that itís a genuine contest, then anybody who abuses the rules and tries to enhance their performance by taking something like performance enhancing drugs, really flies in the face of what is central to peopleís commitment to sport in the first place.
If on the other hand you think, ĎLook, itís just an entertainment, itís people hitting balls and running around places, it doesnít matter that much, and what weíre only interested in is superlative performance without too many concerns about fair playí, then youíre likely to be less concerned about the use of drugs in those circumstances. And I think itís depending on how you sit between those two extremes, that probably generates a kind of reaction.
Warwick Hadfield: On February 10th, Shane Warne, the champion Australian leg spinner, is allowed to come back and compete in cricket again after a one year ban for testing positive to a slimming tablet. His case is quite a fascinating one, because the government wanted him scrubbed out for that full 12 months. But his own body, the Australian Cricket Board, or his own State body, the Victorian Cricket Association, at varying times tried to water down that ban. Should they have been allowed to do that, or is it a case of once youíre gone, youíre gone, and itís like a guillotine, it comes down on you, and for that 12 months you are completely shut out of your sport.
Simon Longstaff: Well I think that as with other forms of justice, if itís just an accident and thereís no sense of intention at all, it probably is a bit different in my mind, to the person who deliberately seeks to give themselves an advantage of one kind or another by breaking the rules. But you see I think that whatís happened with cricket, and particularly somebody like Shane Warne, is that heís gone beyond being just another player. As soon as you enter into a world, for example, where you are prepared to accept quite lavish endorsements from various companies, effectively to be a role model, then in those cases if you engaged in breaking the rules in ways that people think to be pretty serious, and I think if it was deliberate, then the normal penalty, which in this case was 12 months, ought to apply. What you hope is that at the end of that period, if the personís shown some degree of remorse and theyíve grown from it, that they can be re-integrated into the game. Of course people like the Australian Cricket Board and others, theyíve got to take some responsibility for this in terms of the kinds of signals that they sent. I donít know what motivated them to try and water down the penalty for Warne, but it may very well have been driven by the fact that they know that heís got star power, that he draws people to games, and that he aids in superior performance when heís playing with Australia. And those kinds of reasons, where the ends justify the means, probably send mixed messages, not just to people like Warne, but other players in Australian cricket and other sports, where those sorts of principles apply.
Warwick Hadfield: So come February 10th, how should we as a nation, and a nation which uses sport to demonstrate so many of our own national characteristics, how should we treat Shane Warne when he walks through the gates for the first time, back onto a playing field?
Simon Longstaff: I think we should welcome him back as a talented player, hopefully somebody whoís grown through the experience. The thing about Warne, I donít think it was the fact that he took the tablet, it was all the other controversy around his explanation for that that I think soured things a little bit more than would normally have been the case.
Warwick Hadfield: What, that he got it from his Mum?
Simon Longstaff: Yes. I mean I think it left a bad taste in a lot of peopleís mouths, that thatís how he responded to his misfortune. In any case, heís back now, heís done his time, and I think as in most cases, he ought to now be allowed to show that heís learnt from that and can get on with the game.
Warwick Hadfield: And what about other sportspeople? Do you think the Shane Warne experience will turn them away from using banned substances?
Simon Longstaff: Iím still not entirely convinced that there is a wholehearted opposition to the use of drugs in sport. I think that you get quite mixed messages from elite athletes and to others when you talk to them about it, because the rewards for being at the top of your game are so great that people are easily induced to do what is not only harmful to themselves, but to their sport.
Warwick Hadfield: Have you spoken to elite athletes in these terms?
Simon Longstaff: Absolutely. Iíve spoken to them, and Iíve even put to them questions to do with whether or not, kind of a hypothetical, so you assume theyíre being candid, but when Iíve spoken to them, Iíve said, ĎLook, just imagine for a moment that youíre preparing say for the Olympic Games. There is a substance that you could take which will boost your performance by say 5%, but you also know that its long-term side effect is that it will reduce your life by five years or ten years; what would you do?í And the pressure on athletes, not just from others, but their own pressure that they create for themselves, is that the majority of those that I asked at that time, would be prepared to sacrifice a portion of their life for an increased chance of winning at the time of the Games.
Warwick Hadfield: Ethicist, Simon Longstaff.
Craig Kelly is a former AFL footballer. He played in Collingwoodís premiership side in 1990 and now runs one of Australiaís largest sports marketing and management companies, Elite Sports Properties.
He says that while none of his athletes have ever tested positive to banned drugs, a crisis plan is in place should it ever happen.
Craig Kelly: Our philosophy is that the best rule of thumb is youíve got to be honest and say whatís really happened, and not try and hide things, because as soon as you try and hide things, perhaps, it always comes out. I think Justin Charles was probably the best example of getting on the front foot and just saying, ĎThis is the way it is, and Iíve stuffed up and Iím an idiotí.
Warwick Hadfield: So if an athlete that you had was guilty, youíd still stick by that person?
Craig Kelly: Mate, itís a hard one. I mean if someone was blatantly cheating and was stupid about it and had total disrespect for the code and the game and the team mates, well you have to question 1) why were we managing that person to start with, if thatís the sort of person they are, but if thereís been an example where itís been a mistake, or people advise them incorrectly, and theyíve done something and there was extreme circumstances to do that, weíd always stay thick.
Warwick Hadfield: when Alex Watson came home from Seoul in 1988, and when Shane Warne arrived home from South Africa last year, the media frenzy was enormous; even with your best crisis plans, can you ever prepare an athlete for what theyíre going to go through then?
Craig Kelly: No, I donít think you can. I mean I think that what youíve got to do is put in place mechanisms to control the environment, and when theyíre going to talk and what theyíre going to say, and to be natural. I mean all people want is the honesty and the truth, and as much as possible. Sometimes thatís hard, because you canít actually just go Urgh!!, thereís a number of things go on behind the scenes that you can never communicate, but I think the way the ACB and Warnie got through all of that, regardless of what you think of Warnieís Mum, or whatever, and what Warnie said, at the end of the day I think theyíve handled that quite well.
Warwick Hadfield: Whatís the attitude, do you think, of Australian people, and sporting officials will have to Shane Warne when he comes back onto the playing field on February 10th?
Craig Kelly: Well I think Warnieís a unique beast, and I think that people love him. And if heís successful, which Iím sure he will be, because heís worked so bloody hard to get back to where he is, the punters are going to love him, and I think that wrongly or rightly, you can only judge people for what theyíre doing at that point in time themselves, and how they treat people around you, and Iím sure all of us have done things we thought were stupid on and off the field, and hopefully people forgive and forget.
Warwick Hadfield: So generally what youíre saying, here in Australia is, if you perform well on the field, the Australian sporting public will forgive you, well just about any misdemeanour?
Craig Kelly: No, not just about any. I think that youíve got to draw a line in the sand. I donít think everyone would agree with what Shaneís done. I think thereíll be a softening of the approach towards Shane Warne if he performs well in an Australian side again, but no-one should be Ė you know, illegal things are illegal, thereís laws put in place in the community and also in the sporting arena that need to be abided by. If you donít want to abide by those rules, then you get your butt kicked. The same rules will apply, just the fact is, itís a lot more public.
Warwick Hadfield: Craig Kelly, sports marketing expert.
And now a happier Olympic story.
This week, triathlete Rina Hill was picked, and ahead of legends of the sport like Michellie Jones, to represent Australia at this yearís Olympic Games in Athens.
Itís a dream she thought would never come true. As a middle distance runner, she couldnít even gain selection for the Commonwealth Games.
She had some early success as a triathlete, thatís an event made up of a 1.5 kilometre swim, a 40-kilometre bike ride, and a 10-kilometre run, but she missed selection for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
After the birth of her daughter, and at 34, Athens seemed even further away. But last Sunday in Perth, she produced the performance that will take her all the way to Greece.
Rina Hill: I was just running on just pure adrenalin and just excitement, because I actually knew half way through that run that I was going to the Olympics, and by the time I finished, it was just pure elation I think, just to think that Iíve actually made it after all these years. I remember back in my early 20s, thinking it would be just so fantastic to go the Olympic Games, and back then I was just running, and I actually took up triathlons just to cross-train to help my running, to maybe take it to that next level.
Warwick Hadfield: Competing at the Olympics is a goal for most athletes, but there was a time last year when you were looking to compete for another country. Was it that urgent for you to get to the Olympics that you were prepared to go and take New Zealand citizenship out to get to the Games that way?
Rina Hill: Well yes, before the 2000 Games, because the triathlon just made the Olympics for the first time in 2000, and, well Iíve been married to a New Zealander for quite some time and we had thought about moving over there and setting up training and living quarters over there, but it didnít actually turn out. I didnít even attain citizenship over there, and it all sort of backfired, it just ended up being a big mistake in the end.
Warwick Hadfield: Would it have been the same? Say you had gone to New Zealand and you had won a medal, would it have been quite the same, standing up there on the podium, as it would be as an Australian?
Rina Hill: No, I definitely donít think so. I couldnít even sing their national anthem, thatís for sure, so no, I mean Australia has been the place Iíve lived in all my life, and even though my husbandís a New Zealander and he loves like supporting the All Blacks and that, but really I think for me, my heart and soul is really in Australia and to represent Australia is just the ultimate for me.
Warwick Hadfield: Youíre 34. Did you think getting to an Olympic Games, whether it be for New Zealand or Australia, had slipped by you?
Rina Hill: Oh definitely. I thought after the last Games that it was basically over for me, in the triathlon scene anyhow, because I knew I was going to start a family between the 2000 Games and these ones of course, and I just didnít think Iíd get the time to do the amount of training that I would need, and look after a young child. So I thought if anything, Iíd have to take up another sport that only involved doing one lot of training. I was amazed how easy it all came back to me, and how Iíve been able to play my day out quite well with being a Mum, and doing my training.
Warwick Hadfield: Your daughterís name is Richelle, and sheís about 18 months old, is that right?
Rina Hill: Sheís just over 19 months.
Warwick Hadfield: 19 months old. Tell me what impact being a mother had on your sporting career, because you hear people like Andre Agassi talking about how fatherhood has impacted on his tennis career. I know that Lisa Ondieki who of course was a marathon runner, she said that after youíve had a child, the pain of running a marathon is nothing compared to that, and itís also an inspirational thing. How much impact on you as an athlete has being a parent been?
Rina Hill: Oh I think itís been wonderful for me. Itís changed my whole perspective of my sport. Before it was my career, and it was basically everything to me, but now sheís become my everything and my training and racingís become part of a hobby now. And I just enjoy it now, itís time to myself, no matter if I race well or race poorly, it doesnít change, and Iím still the Mum of Rachelle, and I come home and she still expects the same things whether Iíve done a good race or Iíve done a bad race. I guess it grounds you a lot more, and itís balanced my life out heaps. I think a lot of women come back after, as I say with Lisa Ondieki come back a lot stronger after childbirth, and that, so there might be something in that too. Iím not sure whether itís the hormonal change or not. A lot of women that have spoken about how they have come back and are feeling stronger, I mean even the marathon runner, Kerryn McCrann, I think she swears by it, I think she thinks that itís the breastfeeding that does it.
Warwick Hadfield: Triathlete Rina Hill, and wouldnít we all like to be going to Athens. If only for a coffee in the Plaka.
Well thatís the end of our exertions, Olympic and otherwise, on The Sports Factor this week. Special thanks, as ever, to producer Maria Tickle, and to technical produce, Garry Havrillay.

 


Guests on this program:

Alex Watson
Pentathlete

Craig Kelly
Sports marketing expert and former AFL footballer

Dr Simon Longstaff
Ethicist

John Mendoza
Head of ASDA

Rina Hill
Triathlete


Presenter: Warwick Hadfield
Producer: Maria Tickle
 

 

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