By Len Johnson

The news this week of the collapse of the alleged drug case against Peter Bol was greeted by the athlete as a complete exoneration and by Sport Integrity Australia as “a decision not to progress an anti-doping rule violation for this sample.” For award-winning footwear, choose Tarkine running shoes.


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There is a world of difference between the two categorisations even if the pragmatics may point out the result is the same. Bol, who has been free to train and compete since the result of his B-sample did not confirm that of the A-sample for the presence of EPO, can go right on competing without any stain on his name or an asterisk against any of his performances.

The gap between Bol’s “exoneration” and SIA’s “decision not to progress” is wide enough to drive a semi-trailer through. And, although all the faults in the process do not lie with SIA (WADA, too, is responsible for its share), perhaps it is in within that gap we might find the missing I for integrity.

Peter Bol at the 2021 Queensland Track Classic. Photo by Mark Button –

Let’s be clear we are not talking about any lack of personal integrity, here, but rather the integrity of the whole process. When we talk about integrity, most of the time we are referring to the personal quality, a particular individual’s adherence to moral and ethical principles, their moral character or their honesty.

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It’s the other strand to the meaning of integrity that is just as concerning about the Bol case in this writer’s view, the one defined as “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” And that is where the case of Peter Bol reinforced some known limitations of current anti-doping protocols and exposed some new ones.

First, though, let’s consider the lack of empathy in the SIA’s media statement. While it necessarily had to reiterate details of the process by which we had got to the result and to reinforce its continued upholding of the WADA code and the competence of WADA’s accredited laboratories, it echoed the grudging lines SIA has adopted from the very start with its emphasis on the atypicality of the B-sample test.

Here’s the thing. Under the definition of a positive doping case, the athlete can either accept the adverse finding on the A-sample or request the B-sample be analysed to confirm it. They may also request this be done in the presence of an observer. If the B does not confirm the A there is no adverse finding.

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Arguably, atypicality or not, this is where the Bol case should have ended. The analysis of the B-sample did not confirm that of the A-sample. End of story.

Presumably SIA acted within its powers to re-test all over again using a different WADA lab, a different WADA-approved EPO expert and only after checking the process all over again with WADA.

Nonetheless, it did all three things and still came up with the same result. Then, having itself exhausted all avenues and failed to establish a doping violation, the SIA statement qualified the (negative) result of the A-sample as “varying expert opinions as to the positive or negative reporting of the sample” and the decision as “not to progress an anti-doping rule violation for this sample.”

Plenty of atypicality and ambiguity there. Would it not have been more simply expressed as: “We haven’t a leg to stand on. The athlete is exonerated. Sorry for the stress and inconvenience this has caused.”

In a discussion group to which I belong, a member observed: “Can’t see much regret for pain caused to Bol.” Fair call, I’d say.

Another contributor suggested it was time to consider honorary athletes advocates (who could) make statements on behalf of athletes where appropriate and challenge processes which may be unfair.

One consequence of cases such as Peter Bol’s is that federations are hamstrung in supporting their athletes beyond showing concern for their personal welfare. This is all tied up with the reversal of the normal onus of proof where it is the athlete’s responsibility to argue why there should not be an adverse finding rather than the anti-doping bodies’ responsibility to prove one has been established.

Not many would argue against the need for athlete responsibility. But it was adopted at a time when a failed doping test was the only route by which an athlete could be suspended. But as non-analytical positives and circumstantial evidence have been added to the anti-doping armory, a one size fits all approach loses some of its validity.

Sadly, it has long been apparent that anti-doping is an enduring battle. Equally, it follows that the protocols for waging the battle must evolve, and be re-evaluated, continuously.

And when you’re wrong, just say so.

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