Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jul 2013
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2013 The Gleaner Company Limited


We are not surprised that there should be some disquiet at Prime 
Minister Portia Simpson Miller's proposal for drug testing of student athletes.

For the idea, at first glance, can appear intrusive, invasive of 
privacy and with the potential to leave psychological scars and a 
long-term blight on the life prospects of a youngster who might be 
branded a drug cheat. The better option, the critics will argue, is 
to educate students, generally those engaged in competitive sport, 
about the danger of drug use, and the consequences when caught with 
performance enhancers.

While this newspaper is not entirely unsympathetic to such views, we 
believe that it largely misses fundamental issues that Mrs Simpson 
Miller is intending to address. In any event, as the prime minister 
made clear, education and drug testing are not mutually exclusive 
options. Her administration proposes both.

The critical point here, however, is that Jamaica is facing a crisis 
and must act firmly and forcefully to ensure that people with 
malintent are not provided with a beachhead, beyond what they have 
already gained, to overrun our power in global athletics, forged over 
more than a century with much hard effort.

Indeed, our prowess in this area is a high point in a country beset 
with economic and social problems. Jamaica, in significant measure, 
lives vicariously through its athletes.

But as Karl Samuda, the opposition MP, observed this week, the recent 
spate of positive drug tests for some of our top athletes assaulted 
"the previously infallible nature of our athletics prowess".

"That pride, that certain knowledge that we are the best, and the 
best has been damaged," Mr Samuda said. And with it Brand Jamaica.

The repair job can't be accomplished with hubris. For even if we are 
inclined to circle wagons and point to our long history of 
excellence, we must take a hard look at ourselves and fix whatever is 
in need of repair.

Drug testing among student athletes - along with a ramped-up 
public-education programme - should be among the starting points. Our 
school-based athletes are among the best in the world. We, however, 
would not be surprised if, in light of recent developments, there are 
not some arched eyebrows over our achievements at the recently 
concluded World Youth Championships.

a deterrent

Further, high-school sport, athletics in particular, is exceedingly 
competitive. Mandatory drug testing for youngsters engaged in 
competitive extra-curricular sport would serve as a deterrent to 
those coaches, student athletes, and perhaps parents, who might wish 
to seek an edge with performance enhancers. It would also remove a 
potential toehold for doubters.

Drug testing of students would not be unique to Jamaica. They take 
place - mandatory for competitive athletes and with cause for others 
- - in over a fifth of American school districts, growing at one per 
cent a year and faster among school-sports associations members. 
Indeed, it has been nearly two decades since the US Supreme Court 
ruled that drug testing did not breach the constitutional rights of students.

But as Mrs Simpson Miller indicated, a testing regime shouldn't be 
arbitrarily imposed by the Government. Appropriate protocols will 
have to be developed in conjunction with schools, the education 
ministry, and parents, paying attention to issues such as how results 
are managed and the future of student athletes who may test positive.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom