By Lyssa Myska Allen
When Marion Jones won five medals in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, she made headlines as one of the best female athletes in the world. Seven years later, she made them again as she admitted to doping during those games and lying under oath to a grand jury about her involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. She’s now serving a six-month sentence in prison.
But what didn’t make headlines until recently is the effect Jones’ admissions had on her relay teammates—two of those five medals were for the 4 X 100-meter and 4 X 400-meter relay races, in which Marion Jones ran in the finals. In December of 2007, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) began the procedure of stripping the medals of the seven other members of the relay. On April 9, 2008, the IOC officially stripped the seven women of their medals. The women filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the independent international court for sports-related cases.
Paul Anderson, Associate Director of the National Sports Law Institute, doesn’t think there’s much of a legal case in the women’s favor. Anderson says, “I have a hard time seeing what possible way they could win. This is very typical: if someone in your competition is ineligible, your team is ineligible. This happens in regular American sports all the time.” It’s part of the risk of being on or running on a team.
The case is a tough one as well because CAS has little authority. “The reality is that CAS has no way to do anything but tell the IOC what they think. I think the IOC may just wait,” says Anderson. Another factor is that amidst many other allegations of doping, to change the results is no easy task because other teams that might move up are also under investigation. Anderson conjectures that this decision could end up affecting twenty or thirty athletes.
The women’s lawyer, Mark Levinstein—also the lawyer on the Jerome Young case, a case often cited as a precedent for this one—offers a counterargument: “They were teammates in the most nominal sense of the word. Marion Jones didn’t practice with them; she didn’t run in the qualifying heat or the semifinals; she only ran in the finals. They didn’t have the same coach.” Nonetheless, the women’s combined times created the win, which constitutes a team victory. Anderson notes that part of the issue is purely one of perception: “It just seems different because it’s individual athletes at a high level of sport. They’re on a team, unfortunately.”
Perhaps the more salient argument is that the statue of limitations had run out long before December of 2007. According to Levinstein, the 2000 Olympic Charter said that no race decision could be challenged once three years passed after the closing ceremony. The Olympic Charter in 2000 specifically stated that after three years pass, there is no retroactive ability to challenge a decision. The doping code for the 2000 Olympic games was the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code, which held the same provisions as the Olympic Charter.
In 2003, an international committee adopted the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as the WADA code, for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. It is a much stricter code with an eight-year statute of limitations. But, Levinstein points out, “They ran in September of 2000. Three years pass. The WADA code doesn’t apply to Marion Jones’ admissions. That alone should end the case.” A corollary point is that the governing code during the 2000 Olympics said that results can’t even be challenged after three years, much less altered—so there shouldn’t even be hearings about the 2000 Olympics.
“These are the victims of Marion Jones, not the beneficiaries,” says Levinstein. Part of this view is created by the fact that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is not standing behind the women. The USOC is agreeing that as a relay team, the seven women should return the medals deemed unfairly won because of Marion Jones’ admissions. While the USOC did offer to pay the legal fees for the women taking their case to CAS, the stipulations included only choosing from three lawyers selected by the USOC. Levinstein also says that the USOC refused to pay for his services because he refused to sign a contract saying that he would not say anything negative about the organization.
On the notion of corruption within the USOC, it is also important to address the international perception of American athletes. Anderson explains, “All sports except U.S. sports follow the WADA Code, and all complaints go to CAS. We have a lot of trouble because the real perception is that all American athletes are cheaters. That is the perception worldwide because we don’t follow the same standards.” So despite the other women’s innocence in doping, they garner little worldwide support simply because of their association with Marion Jones.
So the thread of perception runs through the entire case. What is the perception of a team, of fairness, of American athletes, of the court itself? While Levinstein is certain his clients deserve to keep their medals, he says, “Give me three of the toughest former federal judges or arbitrators or lawyers or skeptics and they’ll [the women] keep their medals and their results without a doubt. Send me to CAS and who knows.”