Veronica Campbell Brown Saga: The Media, World Doping Association & Critics

Coverage of Jamaica star Athlete Veronica Campbell-Brown’s failed a drug test at the Jamaica International Invitational (JII) meets on May 5th 2013 by some in the local and international media fraternity and pundit class have raised more questions than answer about doping policy in track and field. The pressure to get the story out, may have trumped the pressure to get the facts, and getting the story right. Where facts were not forthcoming or available, VCB’s team has been slow to tell her story, some veered to wild speculation. The standard journalistic question what actually happen and do the fact bare out the conclusions was given the short shift. As André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter for the Gleaner suggested that the (Media) reaction has been heightened due to the athlete’s international status. And as IAAF spokesman Davies noted “there has been a disproportionate reaction, probably due to the fact that the athlete is a prominent Jamaican sprinter.”

                                                 Photo by Stan Smith                                                                                                                                                                                   Given what was at stake VCB may need the help of a high-powered team of experts that included science, sports medicine practitioners, lawyers and communicators to represent her presentation in her case before the JAAA’s disciplinary committee.

The media response ranged from false narratives, feeding the negative perception Jamaican sprint success as drug related, public confusion regarding doping policy and a rush to judgment without thorough due diligence, or a full investigation. Many reporters and commentators, including some in Jamaica media, blew the situation out of proportion with wild speculation, and the lack of context and balance of the facts available. The gravity of situation and how it was playing out in the media with critics forced the IAAF Deputy General Secretary Nick Davies to take the unusual step to intervene. Davies told The Associated Press message “Although we would not normally comment on active cases, we…to take the opportunity to urge and remind media simply to keep a sense of perspective.”

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), world governing body, In its official response to how the doping case story involving the multiple Olympic and World Championships medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown, IAAF noted “This seems from evidence to be a minor doping offence according to our rules, so we want to remain realistic in our reaction, pending the conclusion of the case” … ( and this)“appears to involve a “lesser” offense of unintentional use of a banned substance.” 

If media commentators had sought to practice due diligence and facts based commentary instead of wild speculation, the result could have been a more balanced perspective in reporting. Prudent in reporting may have yielded news stories within the context of VCB’s outsize distinguished reputation as both as a decorate athlete and a role model in contrast with what she was alleged to have done. Many of stories were premised on VCB guilt the sought to predict the consequences to her career. This then didn’t allow them to any room to explanation educate the public on the complexity of doping rules. Many of the pieces left the impressing that an analytical averse finding meant she was guilty, without even having the fact of VCB defense, and only punishment was left to be metered out. WADA makes scientific finding, the JAAA and or IAAF are the agencies that determine degree of guilt and appropriate level of sanctions, if any.

Shortly after the story broke on June 18th; Jamaica Observer Newspaper, a Jamaican news outlet reported, (without attribution) that the ‘B’ sample of VCB’ test had also returned a positive finding at the IAAF certified laboratory in Montreal, Canada. There was no factual basis for this report because neither the IAAF, the testing lab, WADA or JAAA, the national track and field agency in Jamaica issued any such official confirmation of Campbell-Brown ‘B’ sample being positive. In fact on June 20 Dr. Warren Blake, JAAA President, told RJR Sports, a local radio station that the JAAA “will be moving to empanel a disciplinary team to carry out a speedy hearing as soon as we get notification of the “B’ sample. He specifically said JAAA had not received notification of the “B” sample. Campbell-Brown, who could not face a hearing, before the Jamaica Anti-doping Commission panel to determine the facts of the case until the JAAA receives confirmation of an adverse analytical reading of the B sample. Having looked at WADA, IAAF and JAAA official responses, I am yet to determine how local media reported that the B sample came back positive. Why were conclusions drawn without all the relevant facts from an evidentiary hearing?

With a total of 18 World Championship and Olympic medals Campbell Brown is the most highly decorated successful female athlete in Jamaica track and field history. With her sterling reputation as role model and the fact that if she goes down Jamaica’s reputation as clean sprint power would be damaged. Media stories seemed to be mostly premised on her guilt. Very few in the media community were willing to publicly give Campbell-Brown the benefit of the doubt.
Campbell-Brown informed reporters in London that low blood pressure, a medical condition, had cause her to miss serious training time leading up to the games. RJR Sports sources also indicated that there mitigating circumstances. The banned diuretic was contained in a crème the sprinter as using to treat a leg injury she had declared on her doping control form. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the label of the product used by VCB did not reveal the banned properties.

The fact that there was no performance enhancing drugs involved did not serve as a cautionary note to dissuade the media from engaging in wild speculation the regarding the punishment VCB could receive.  Later reports would show that Veronica Campbell-Brown had in fact declared using a product and had notified the doping control authorities that she had taken medication, ahead of her positive drug test. So the subsequent positive tests with the presence of banned substances which turned up should not have been a surprise to JAAA or JADCO. Should either agency have advised VCB not to compete until the contacted the IAAF or WADA to see what course to pursue? The World Anti-Doping Agency has a strict liability policy under which athletes are held responsible for any banned drug found in their body. However WADA listing of annual list of banned substances are under categories of substances, not specific substances.

Local Jamaican coach David Riley echoes Gatlin sentiment. Riley argues that professional athletes face an unfair disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves against unintentional doping. He argues that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should simplify the process the general athlete to be able identify products containing prohibited substances. He believes that the responsibility to know what is in everything that the athletes are consumes is being placed solely on the athlete. Because WADA annual list of banned substances are under categories of substances, not specific substances the average athlete doesn’t have the skill set to determine what falls under substances fall under which category. Riley’s recommendation is that WADA needs to develop a system where manufacturers get their products tested and approved by the doping agency. Jamaican track coach and Racers president Glen Mills has called for the Jamaican government to establish an accredited drug testing laboratory on the island to enable athletes to have substances intended for consumption tested and verified before it is done
“I think they ought to shift the responsibility to the manufacturer of the products to get it certified or approved for consumption by athletes,” Riley reasoned. “Having products being declared safe for athletes is I think, an important step because an athlete walking into a store and seeing the label would then be assured that they can consume that and this would help the person who is trying to adhere to the rules.

Another disappointing aspect of the VCB was the decided lack of support and total deafening silence from her fellow Jamaican athletes and the sporting community

President of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) Mike Fennell pleaded with the public and the media to await fact, he cautioned that because the unfolding saga was a very explosive situation, it could damage the highly decorated model athlete her family and Jamaica’s reputation in the sport of athletics. Fennel cautioned against not jumping to final conclusions before they knew exactly what the facts were. The sanction for a lesser offense can be a reduced penalty – a suspension of a few months to a year or a public warning – rather than a standard two-year ban
While Racers Track Club president coach Glen Mills caution against rushing to judgment, MVP Track Club, in its tweet “It’s not one of our athletes” seemed not to either grasp or care about the implication of the magnitude of the potential damage to Jamaica’s reputation. Or as Gleaner sports writer Hubert Lawrence wrote “If she goes down, Jamaica’s reputation will be damaged.” There was virtually no show of public support from her Jamaican compatriots.

Majority of the support for VCB came from non- Jamaicans and foreign athletes. Here is sample of what they had to say.  Two-time 200m World Championships bronze medalist, Wallace Spearmen Jr of the United States, is refusing to believe the sprint queen would take any such substance and remains resolute in support for her.

Wallace Spearmon posted on Twitter “I wake up to this … I know for a fact she wouldn’t do anything like that. “I’m sticking with her until the end … VCB I got your back.”

Sanya Richards-Ross – So hard for me to believe the news of VCB. She’s always been so talented! Really respect her as one of the greats.

Kim Collins – V Campbell- Brown my friend, we love you. Continue to hold your head high. Jamaicans line up behind VCB.

Jamaican athlete Julian Robinson – I’m standing with VCB and I believe in her. She has carried our flag with distinction for over a decade and will overcome this hurdle too.

According to an article in Sports Illustrated online American sprinter Justin Gatlin … rushed to the defence of embattled Jamaican sprinter Veronica Campbell Brown “When you see someone who has such a stellar pedigree like hers, from youth age to now, you have to sit and wait and watch what happens,” Gatlin further stated “I wish the best for her.”  Shedding some sober light on what athletes face in situation like this Gatling said “It’s a wide variety of things that can happen to an athlete that can lead them to be a victim.” “I always have to remember that there’s always going to be critics out there, always going to be haters that are going to look at me or anybody else like the Veronica situation in a negative light.,”

The news coverage was riddled with inaccuracies in an apparent attempt to perpetuate the scandal perspective.

As Beenie Man would say, ” Mi Naah Too Stress, Mi jus’a look and explanation:”Usain Bolt’s Jamaica teammate Veronica Campbell Brown fails drug test. BBC

Usain Bolt’s Jamaica team-mate Veronica Campbell-Brown fails drug test – The Independent

The above piece is an example of a story creating a false narrative with convenient omission. Read and tell me. Here are some of the things I find troubling. No mention of the fact the all the athletes, save, Yohan Blake, mentioned in the story train in the USA, where access to drugs is easier and far more widespread, or the fact that it was Jadco Jamaica Doping association testing that brought to light these athletes failed drug test. No mention of the fact that the Methylhexanamine, is the same substance for which Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson, Lansford Spence, Allodin Fothergill and Sheri-Ann Brooks returned positive tests in 2009 is found in food and perfume industries, though classified as a stimulant under Section S6 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances. Also methylhexaneamine was not on the WADA list of banned substances until the following year and methylhexanamine  was not named specifically but was included under a broad category

Why the headline associating Bolt with drugs. Why mention that Steve Mullings and VCB use to train together and leave out the fact that Tyson Gay until Mullings suspension was Mullings training partner in Florida. Dominique Blake (NY based) was given a six ban she has not been denied an appeal. Why mention local media reports of the B sample been confirmed, when neither WADA, the Canadian Lab nor the IAAF has officially confirmed this to be true? Why mention five Jamaican athletes in 2009 were banned (received penalty sanctions) for drugs offences, and not mention the case against Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as the substance involved was neither a performance enhancer nor a masking agent. Why mention WADA’s response to Riley charge about unfair testing/targeting of Jamaican athletes without pointing out former WADA head Dick Pound unfounded and unproven allegations at the London Olympics. Or that the Canadian testing Lab in VCB’s case is also located in Canada where Dick Pound live.

On a personal note, as this sage unfolded two memories of VCB came back to me.  I met VCB, the VC, in 2007 after the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in NYC after she had just beaten Lauryn Williams in the 60 meter dash in the Garden. I accepted an invitation from Marieca Lewis, a family friend and Sister P, the wife of Jamaican Olympian Neville Myton visit VC at the hotel she was staying -across from MSG. Sister P and Mar introduced to VC and we had a brief conversation about her philosophical approach to track and field

On winning she said VC said ” track and field is funny, (winning is) today for you tomorrow for me, so I never get too excited wining even though I am happy when I do win.” She went on told lament the fact that, in Arkansas where was attending U of A, she missed being not able to get favorite Bun and Cheese and thank her fiancé Omar who would get bun and cheese to her. I struck and impressed by VCB, humility, humble yet dignify manner. Her dignity, her stately demeanor made this goodwill ambassador displayed as on June 1 (I sat one row behind her on the press/athlete bus) on the way to the Ichan stadium at the Adidas Games in NYC.