Friday, February 21, 2003: 06:30AM Australian Associated Press

[A commentary on the "absolute" interpretations of anti-doping rules -- they are not laws for they are not passed by democratic methods of law establishment.]


A lawyer who helped formulate the Australian Cricket Board's anti-doping code has strongly defended the policy.

Hayden Opie also condemned the extent of public comment about Shane Warne's positive drug test ahead of his anti-doping hearing.

Noted sports lawyer Simon Rofe has said the policy's "exceptional circumstances" clause might help Warne beat the charge of using a prohibited method.

But Opie defended the clause, saying it reflected established legal principle and said many other sports' anti-doping codes were too strict.

"This so-called `loophole' reflects a legal principle that originates in the rulings of the High Court of Australia and is well recognised as introducing a necessary element of fairness and justice to strict liability offences," Opie said.

"Unfortunately, many anti-doping policies in sport do not reflect this desirable, basic principle.

I observe growing disquiet in informed circles that sports organisations inflict draconian punishments merely on the ground of athlete responsibility for whatever goes in the mouth.

"Whatever happened to responsibility on the basis of cheating or gaining an unfair advantage?"

Opie was on the panel that formulated the ACB's anti-doping policy.

He said an athlete was stripped of a bronze medal won at the 2002 Winter Olympics despite there being no question about his character and doubts over whether the substance he took gave him any advantage.

"We hear claims that strict liability is necessary to rule out the possibility of athletes escaping on frivolous grounds such as too much sex, spiked toothpaste and steroid-contaminated meat and that is why the ACB Policy's `loophole' is undesirable," Opie said.

"Such claims both consign innocent athletes to infamy and assume that the eminent tribunals now available to hear drug cases cannot pick a `porkie' - frankly, that beggars belief."

Opie added Warne faced a situation "perhaps more serious than some criminal charges".

"I would suggest that the occasion demands greater restraint from commentators, especially those who claim legal qualification," he said.

"While Shane Warne is no ordinary person, one must begin to wonder at the treatment that is being handed out to him."

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