Howard Jacobs

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

It boggles the mind, truly, that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency proved so inept, or something, that it moved Monday to announce it had “withdrawn” action against the world’s No. 1 sprinter, Christian Coleman. 

Was its official conduct negligent or more —was it reckless? Why the aggressive advocacy bordering — in recent months increasingly typical of the agency — on religious-style zealotry? Why the arrogance? 

How — seriously, how — could USADA not understand the rules? 

USADA’s basic mission, fundamentally before all else, is to understand the very rules that it says, time and again, over and over, that athletes must internalize, or else. 

And yet — because of USADA’s inability to understand the “whereabouts rules,” it very publicly brought a case against Coleman and, on Monday, embarrassingly — let’s be clear, embarrassingly, shamefully — dropped it.

Someone owes someone something, and before the very serious topic of money damages gets addressed, and that is a legitimate topic for discussion, because these past few weeks have been the height of the European professional track circuit, what there should be first is a very public apology, because — this was wrong.

Very, very wrong.

16 months for a supplement, and now?

Russian swim star and world-record holder Yulia Efimova got a 16-month ban for taking a supplement that included a banned substance. She tested positive for DHEA. That’s for sure a no-no.

Odds are, most of you have never heard of her.

Fair enough.

Yulia Efimova after winning the 50 breaststroke at last year's world championships in Barcelona // photo Getty Images

Moreover, doping cases tend to be repetitive, indeed mundane.

This one is actually interesting, and on a number of different levels.

Here’s why:

Efimova will sit out 2014 and the first two months of 2015, meaning she will likely be back in time for the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, before a home crowd, and to make a run for Rio 2016. Thus she had ample incentive to get this over with.

It's another example of leniency for supplement use. Which on the one hand is entirely appropriate. Supplement use is not, for instance, the same as injecting EPO. On the other, it makes you wonder — when is the message going to get through to elite athletes that supplement use can be reckless and irresponsible?

It’s also another victory for noted lawyer Howard Jacobs of Westlake Village, California. Look, if you have a doping problem, it’s like Ghostbusters — who you gonna call? Howard Jacobs, obviously.

Efimova didn’t even bother to have the B sample tested. She didn’t contest the lab finding. She knew what she had done. Again, this was an issue of negligence and then, for the authorities, seeking to measure liability with common sense.

The three-person FINA Doping Panel ruling was dated Monday.

Efimona competes for Russia but trains at the University of Southern California.

She is now 22. She has been a first-rate swimmer since her teens. She moved to USC when she was 18. At the 2012 London Games, she won bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke. Last year, at the world championships in Barcelona, she would win the finals of both the 50 and 200 breast and set the world-record in the 50, 29.78, in the heats - a mark that Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania then lowered in the semifinals to 29.48.

She tested positive after last year’s worlds — on Oct. 31, in an out-of-competition test.

She loses four gold medals at the European short-course championships in Denmark. She also loses two short-course world records set late last year, including one pending mark. Two of those four were individual races; two, relays.

The source of the positive was a supplement, Cellucor CLK, that she bought Sept. 16 at a GNC near where she lives in California. She said she relied on the advice she got at the GNC store, alleging that she believed “salespersons at vitamin stores in the United States were well-educated and knowledgable concerning the products they sold.”

She said she was “more inclined to question the qualifications of individuals selling supplements in Russia than in the United States.”

The level of her naiveté, frankly, borders on the breathtaking.

We are now 15 or so years after the creation of the World and U.S. Anti-Doping Agencies, and both have spent much time and energy reaching out to athletes in a bid to make clear they have to know what goes into their bodies.

And here is a world-class swim racer, indeed an Olympic medalist and world champion, relying on the advice of a clerk at a GNC?

From the decision: “Ms. Efimova testified that although she is an elite swimmer who had been through numerous doping controls and although she is aware that she is responsible for what she puts in her body, Ms. Efimova has never been given specific anti-doping education and has never been taught how to be a wise consumer of supplements, a problem her lawyer contended was compounded by the fact that her English is self-taught and by her relative unfamiliarity with the supplement market in the United States.”

How can it be she had never been given specific anti-doping education? Seriously?

Just so everyone understands the responsibilities here — though she has been training for the past four years primarily at USC, the party bearing the burden for educating her is the Russian Swimming Federation.

The panel, apparently being diplomatic, said “the fact that no anti-doping education was provided to Ms. Efimova by the RSF is disappointing and put her at a disadvantage in fulfilling her responsibility to be a savvy consumer.”

Is she alone in that regard? If not, how does that get fixed? If she is not alone, that is a significant problem, particularly since, again, next year’s worlds will be in Kazan.

A quick look at the label, as the decision noted, would have clearly shown DHEA listed as an ingredient.

As for her English-language abilities:

Efimova has been in the United States for roughly four years. Nobody is asking her to write like Faulkner. But four years? For sure she should be conversant.

Again, the level of the naiveté at issue surely must give the reasonable person pause.

At any rate, all of this is in its way prelude to what may well be the most intriguing part of the matter.

Some context:

Before moving to LA, Efimova had been coached by her father, Andrey. For the five years before that, she had been coached by Irina Vyatchanina. Efimova moved to SoCal to swim with the Trojan Swim Club, headed by coach Dave Salo.

Salo is, simply put, one of the great coaches in the world.

Here is the thing, though:

Two others, Jessica Hardy and Ous Mellouli, had positives while at USC, Hardy for a supplement, Mellouli for Adderall.

Side note: Howard Jacobs represented them both.

Now Hardy and Mellouli are both Olympic medalists and, yes, absolutely, positive role models. For sure. If you were a seventh-grade teacher, you totally would want Jessica Hardy or Ous Mellouli to come to your class and tell your kids their story of achievement.

Two other notes:

Salo had nothing to do with either positive test.

And he had nothing to do with Efimova’s positive.

In swim circles, however, there have been whispers — like, what is going on there under all that California sunshine?

That’s why perhaps this is maybe the most compelling excerpt in the entire decision, the panel devoting an entire paragraph to it, because what is more essential than someone’s reputation?

“According to Ms. Efimova, her coach at the Trojan Swim Club, David Salo, is adamantly opposed to the use of supplements of any kind. She said her coach frequently tells his swimmers that they can get all the nutrition they need through a well-balanced diet and that supplements are unnecessary.”

If you move halfway around the world … to place your trust in your coach … and your coach is one of the best … and he says don’t use supplements … and you do, anyway … it’s appropriate for the right people to stand up for the coach, in black and white, for everyone to see, when that coach is showing appropriate leadership.

So let’s everyone recognize, as the FINA Doping Panel did, too, that Dave Salo did the right thing here.

And Yulia Efimova made a mistake.

And — despite the fact that USADA, WADA and other responsible agencies — are screaming from the rooftops not to take supplements, that message is somehow not getting across fully and completely.

So, where are we, and — to quote that most famous of Russian aphorisms — what is to be done?

 

Calm, strong, happy: Jessica Hardy

Some winter mornings in Los Angeles break warm and soft. This was not one of them. It had rained overnight, and there were fast clouds scudding overhead, and the thermometer said it was 49 degrees at 7:30 Thursday morning. The water in the USC pool was warm, as always, 80 degrees. But on the deck it was chilly and it was way early and now there were two solid hours of swimming to be done.

No one wants to know how hard you work in March. They just want to see the results come July, when the Olympic Games get underway in London. But this is when what happens this summer gets determined.

And perhaps no one is more determined than Jessica Hardy.

Four years ago, after the U.S. Trials, Jessica Hardy seemed on top of the swim world. She had qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games in four events: the 100-meter breaststroke, the 50 freestyle and two relays.

Then, though, she found out that she had tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol.

Jessica and Dominik Meichtry, who went to grammar school in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and college at Berkeley and swims at the Olympics for the Swiss team -- his dad works in the airline business -- have been dating for six years now. She turns 25 this month; he is 27.

The day she found out, she called him; she was in Palo Alto, he in Berkeley; he borrowed a car from Dana Vollmer, another top-flight U.S. swimmer, and drove down to see Jessica; he was so distracted he got in a fender-bender. "It was just bad," he said.

They went to a hamburger place. They ordered. The food just sat there and got cold. He had to leave the next day, to go to a pre-Games training camp. He didn't know whether to go. Go, she said. He was so addled that he thought his flight leaving at 1 meant 1 in the afternoon; it had left 1 in the morning.

He explained the situation to the airport staff. They got him on another flight. He got to Singapore at 3 in the morning. Doping control officers, apparently suspicious, knowing his connection with Hardy, were there to meet him. "I was freaking out," he said.

Their phone bill that month, he said, was "skyrocketing." He said, "I remember one conversation between us was that I should swim," meaning at the Games. "She said I deserved to be there and I should swim for her, too, and be selfish about it.

"… She wanted me to do well and wanted something for the both of us."

He made the Olympic final in the 200 meters, finishing sixth.

Back home, meanwhile, Hardy was trying to sort out exactly what had happened. She and her team, including the immensely capable California-based lawyer Howard Jacobs, figured out that the clenbuterol had gotten into a dietary supplement she had been taking.

To make a long story short, the two-year suspension typical in even a first doping case was cut in half.

And then last year the International Olympic Committee announced that Hardy would be cleared to compete in London, assuming she qualifies at the U.S. Trials, which get underway in late June in Omaha.

The takeaway from all this: For sure Jessica Hardy tested positive. But she did not deliberately do anything wrong.

She is no cheater.

And in a weird way, getting suspended might have been the best thing to have ever happened to her.

"If you had asked me that in 2009," she said, "I would have punched you. I was so angry. But it has turned into that."

Because while she missed the 2008 Games -- perhaps 2012 is her time.

In her return to competition in 2009, she set three world records, two in the same race. That's angry.

"I started off being furious in my training because I was suspended. It was just -- train as hard as you can. I was doing too much too fast. It was just too much emotion. I felt like a bird in a cage when I should have been out soaring. It was almost reckless.

"Dave," meaning Dave Salo, at USC, the coach who has worked with Hardy for years now, "knew that was going to happen. So he only let me train two or three times in the water."

Over the years since, the trick has been to, as she put it, "find happiness."

She said, "I am doing well in both strokes in practice. I am extremely motivated. But not reckless. It's a calm motivation. When I am too motivated I spin out of control. I have too much explosiveness to hold the water. When I want things too much, it doesn't work. I have to be calm, strong and happy."

She added a moment later, "It's a mental thing. I am just really mentally strong. I want it. It has made me focus on the bigger picture than just now. Do I really want it and what does it mean to me?"

In the group she trains with at USC are, among others, Rebecca Soni and Yuliya Yefimova of Russia. At the 2011 swim world championships in Shanghai, they went 1-2-3 in the 50 breast: Hardy, Yefimova, Soni.

Of course the 50 is not an Olympic event. Soni is the Beijing 200 breast gold medalist and 100 silver medalist. Yefimona was just 16 in Beijing; she finished fourth there in the 100 and fifth in the 200.

Hardy is the world-record holder in the 100 breast. But she did not swim the event in Shanghai, taking as she put it, a "mental vacation" from it last year, part of the big-picture plan.

Which includes training at USC with a bunch of world-class men. Among them: Ricky Berens, who raced on the 800-meter free relay with Michael Phelps that won gold in Beijing and is, moreover, Soni's boyfriend; Dave Walters, who swam in the prelims in Beijing in that same relay and thus earned gold himself; and Ous Mellouli, the 1500 gold medalist in Beijing.

And, of course, Meichtry.

"What's really special about Jess," he said, while she listened, "is that any other person would have this anger inside them …

"It's a little scary for her competitors how calm she is. We obviously talk about London. Quite often. There are 140-something days left. But she really just takes one step at a time. She's not putting all this pressure on herself, saying, 'Oh, at the Trials everything has to go right.' That's what has changed. She has become a lot more calm person, a lot more grateful person over everything that has happened to her."

They looked at each other with obvious affection, a couple that had been through an enormous test of what each means to each other. She smiled at him. And he at her.

He said, "We make a great team."

Justice: 'Six-month' rule booted, appropriately

Doping in sport is corrosive. The international Olympic Committee has every right to want to be tough on doping. But you can't occupy the moral high ground when you're mired in legal quicksand. From the get-go, that was always the problem with what is formally known as Rule 45, informally as "the six-month rule," which took effect in 2008 and sought to ban any athlete hit with a doping-related suspension of more than six months from competing in the next Summer or Winter Games.

In a case that centered on American LaShawn Merritt, the 400-meter champion from the 2008 Beijing Games, sport's top tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday unanimously decided that Rule 45 violated the World Anti-Doping Code -- with which by the Olympic Charter the IOC must comply -- and is thus "invalid and unenforceable."

This is a victory for Merritt, who now gets to run in the 2012 London Games, assuming of course he makes the team at the U.S. Trials next year in Eugene, Ore.

It is a victory for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which brought the case on his behalf.

Mostly, it's a victory for common sense.

Which, bluntly, the anti-doping system needs.

For that system to work, it depends most of all on credibility.

Rule 45 was a credibility-killer.

Typically, the IOC is very big on process and procedure.

Not so much in this instance.

In a bid to be tough on dopers, the IOC pronounced -- in essence -- we get to make the rules because they're our Olympic Games and we make those rules our way and if you don't like it, well, too bad for you.

That's not fair play.

That's why Thursday's decision is so important.

The decision "further establishes the independence and legitimacy of CAS," Howard Jacobs, the noted California lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the USOC, said.

"Of course, the big concern is that the IOC is the IOC," he said. "For them to say, 'It's our Olympics and we create the rules' -- it's comforting to know there's a body to say, 'Only to a point.' "

The IOC, reiterating its "zero tolerance" in the campaign against the use of illicit performance-enhancing drug use in sport, issued a statement that said it was "naturally disappointed" and "somewhat surprised" in the CAS decision, saying it had believed all along the rule was an "efficient means to advance the fight against doping."

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, joined by anti-doping bodies from Britain, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark, had filed a brief urging CAS to find Rule 45 invalid, arguing that because it was inconsistent with the world code it actually "undermines the world anti-doping program."

Also joining in, filing separate briefs backing the USOC: the Swiss Anti-Doping Agency; the French Anti-Doping Agency; the Dutch and Hungarian Olympic committees; the Spanish Professional Cyclist Assn.; and the Russian Biathlon Union. The Valparaiso (Indiana) University Sports Law Clinic also filed a brief supporting the USOC.

The IOC came to court by itself, asserting it had no need to produce such "friend-of-the-court" briefs. In this instance, it was probably because it had no such friends backing up its position.

So many other parties, however, were so interested in the USOC's arguments because Thursday's ruling holds the ruling to impact athletes well beyond Merritt and nations far beyond American shores. A British Olympic Assn. rule bans drug offenders for life from the Games. Now that rule surely will come under renewed scrutiny.

The IOC's policy-making Executive Board enacted the six-month rule on June 27, 2008, just ahead of the Beijing Olympics. It came into effect that next month. London 2012, though, would have been the first Summer Games to have been fully covered by it.

If the IOC wanted to make this kind of rule, the way to do it would have been to seek an amendment to the WADA code. The obvious reality is, it's far from clear the IOC could garner support for this kind of policy.

Why?

Because, simply, the rule makes no distinction between those who intend to cheat and those who, like Merritt, make a stupid mistake.

This always was the fatal flaw in the rule.

Merritt served a 21-month suspension after testing positive for a banned substance found in the male enhancement produce ExtenZe. He bought the stuff at a 7-Eleven. He made a bad choice. He didn't intend to cheat.

Even though Merritt had already served that suspension, the IOC nonetheless wanted to bar him from the next edition of the Games. Rule 45 was an "eligibility" provision, it alleged.

Nonsense, the USOC and others responded. Rule 45 amounted to an impermissible double "sanction," they said. You can't serve a suspension and then get another suspension on top of that, which is what being banned from the next Olympics amounts to.

To the credit of the IOC and USOC, both parties agreed to bring the case to CAS this year instead of next -- instead of letting it drag on, as litigation can tend to do. The two sides have not always agree in recent years on matter of procedure, much less substance. It might well have been chaos if this kind of case had come up next year, and this sort of "eligibility" issue had arisen -- should Merritt, for instance, be allowed to run at the Trials?

As Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the USOC pointed out in a statement, getting the case decided now ensured "certainty" amid preparations for 2012, and -- again -- the USOC deserves special mention for taking up the case, quietly and deliberately, and doing the right thing. Let's face it -- it was advocating for an Olympic champion, yes, but also for one convicted of a doping offense, and at the outset the USOC had no idea in which way that might ultimately play out in the court of public opinion.

Echoed Bob Hersh, the senior IAAF vice president, speaking at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, "I'm glad there is apparent resolution to something that is uncertain," adding, "It was an important issue to resolve."

An eight-hour hearing was held Aug. 17 in Lausanne, Switzerland, CAS' base. CAS initially planned to issue the ruling last week but ultimately did so Thursday.

Even if it could be seen as an eligibility rule, the three-member CAS panel said, cutting through all the legal mumbo-jumbo to get to the essence, the rule obviously held the "nature and inherent characteristics of a sanction." Therefore, the panel said, it violated the WADA code.

Common sense.

A win for Jessica Hardy, and common sense

Jessica Hardy, who never did anything wrong but who had to sit out the 2008 Olympic Games anyway, was cleared Thursday to try to make the 2012 London Games. Good for her.

Good for the U.S. swim team, for the U.S. Olympic Committee and for the International Olympic Committee.

Finally, common sense prevailed.

"This feels great. This is, like, the best feeling ever," Jessica Hardy said in a telephone interview.

Echoed her attorney, Howard Jacobs, ""It's great for her. Finally. No question marks for Jessica."

The decision announced Thursday also marks yet another example of the warming relationship between the USOC and IOC, and comes the day after the two committees said they had mutually agreed to take the case involving the U.S. sprinter LaShawn Merritt to sport's top tribunal, the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, for expedited resolution.

Here is the difference between the two matters:

Merritt, who tested positive for a banned substance found in a male enhancement product, received a 21-month suspension from competition. His ban ends this July.

Before the 2008 Summer Games the IOC enacted what's commonly known now as the "six-month rule." It  purports to bar any athlete hit with an anti-doping ban longer than a half-year from competing in the successive edition of the Games -- in Merritt's case, London in 2012, even though his ban is due to end in July 2011.

Behold the complications:

Technically, Merritt would be eligible for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But would he want to run at the Trials if he couldn't compete at the Games themselves? If he did run, and qualified, could an American or English court compel his position at the Games? Big picture -- is the "six-month rule" an impermissible double penalty on top of the 21-month ban or is it merely, as the IOC contends, an eligibility rule?

All these questions. Both the USOC and IOC need answers. That's why they moved together to take Merritt's case to CAS.

And now for the Hardy case.

She tested positive in July 2008 for the banned substance clenbuterol. It somehow got into a dietary supplement she had been taking.

The two-year suspension typical in even a first doping case was later cut in half.

So what about the six-month rule?

The rule went into effect on July 1, 2008; she tested positive on July 3; there was no way she would realistically have known about it.

In an April 21 letter to USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, the IOC said it simply would not apply the rule in Hardy's case.

The very, very best thing about this is that Jessica Hardy gets to hold her head high on the pool deck. She doesn't have to worry about anyone whispering anything -- anything -- about her. She didn't do anything wrong.

It took a long time for the authorities to say so. But that's exactly what they said: Jessica Hardy did not do anything wrong. Now all she has to do is go out there and swim.

"It's really, really, really amazing," she said. "It was a long three years waiting around, hoping and training and preparing for the best. Now I can not wait for the future.

"It has been kind of hard," she admitted. "I have been emotionally fragile this whole time. To have a definite answer three years later is amazing. I am more excited than ever."

LaShawn Merritt's fascinating legal drama

Beijing Games 400-meter track and field gold medalist LaShawn Merritt got 21 months for doping, a three-member arbitration panel ruled in a decision made public Monday. That's not, though, the news from one of the most fascinating Olympic-themed sports law cases in recent memory. As part of the case, a 7-Eleven clerk testified that she sold Merritt the male enhancement product ExtenZe on a number of occasions. The stuff that's in ExtenZe is what he tested positive for. Again, though, that's not the news. Merritt is, by all accounts, a first-rate young man. He didn't intend to cheat. He made a really bad choice. Enough said.

At issue in Merritt's case is a provocative, tough-on-doping rule the International Olympic Committee adopted two years ago.

The rule says that any athlete who gets hit with a doping-related suspension from competition of more than six months is banned from the next editions of the Winter and Summer Games.

Thus the bolt of news in Monday's ruling, the three-member Merritt panel saying in a unanimous ruling that the IOC rule is too strong. The panel called it an "additional penalty on an athlete over and above what is provided for in the [World Anti-Doping] Code for a doping infraction."

Like virtually all doping-related rulings, the Merritt matter is mired in citations and in criss-cross analysis that might well terrify even a first-year law student. It runs to 52 pages. Yet on the central point the ruling speaks with remarkably frank language.

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck," the opinion reads in emphasizing its assertion that the rule is an impermissible additional penalty. It adds a few sentences later, "Any argument to the contrary is mere skullduggery."

Well.

Bring on the appeal!

Off we go to the next and final tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sports, and the sooner the better, because this is a point of sports law that must not any longer remain unsettled.

In the big picture, and just being honest about the way Americans are sometimes perceived in the quiet corridors of international sport, the fact that this ruling comes from an American case, with American arbitrators assigned through the American Arbitration Assn., may not ultimately prove all that helpful to American athletes such as Merritt, or the likes of the swimmer Jessica Hardy.

But this, too, must be said: At least someone, somewhere was willing to confront the issue squarely. If it had to be an American panel, so be it.

One way or the other, it must be settled. To let it linger perpetuates a situation that's not fair and not right, because -- as in nearly all rule-oriented areas of life -- it's essential that there's certainty about which way the rule cuts.

Merritt's case makes for an excellent test. It offers a vivid reminder of how world-class athletes lead different lives than the rest of us mere mortals even as it raises a string of compelling questions.

The well-established rule in sports doping is that if it's in your system, you're liable for it. That is, and remains, the starting point for any discussion.

By now, any elite athlete surely must know that you play with fire if you buy anything at an American vitamin store.

By extension, now you have to be on guard at the 7-Eleven, too. So the case of LaShawn Merritt makes for a cautionary tale. The lesson: a world-class Olympic-sports athlete has to be on guard about almost everything he or she ingests.

Is that fair?

Maybe not.

Is there any other way to do it? Almost surely not, because athletes and their lawyers have proven amazingly inventive in seeking to avoid culpability.

No question Merritt was negligent for not checking the ExtenZe label. No question it's his fault the stuff -- the substances DHEA and pregnenolone -- got into his system. That's why he got 21 months.

Then again, was he appropriately warned? Everyone in American society knows there are warning labels or signs about seemingly everything, everywhere. Should there be warnings about the potential adverse consequences to athletes on a "sexual functioning" product?

As the ruling Monday noted, the "privacy of an individual's sexuality requires the greatest degree of [legal] protection. As such, the issue of sexuality rarely comes up in the context of doping in sport. In this respect, this is a truly exceptional case."

Should issues of sexuality so matter? That would make for an exceptionally interesting debate.

Ultimately, though, that's not why this case is, indeed, truly exceptional.

The IOC's policy-making executive board, in June 2008, adopted the six-months-and-you're-banned-from-the-next-Games rule. In Olympic legal jargon, the policy has come to be called "The Unpublished Memo."

The standard suspension in a first doping offense is two years.

To cut through a lot of legal clutter, the issue with The Unpublished Memo is simple:

Is it only an eligibility rule? Or is it itself a second sanction on top of a significant suspension already issued in a particular case?

If it's the latter, doesn't that amount to double jeopardy?

As detailed Monday, Merritt's suspension is retroactive to last October and runs through next July. Merritt would be eligible for track's 2011 world championships, due to be held in August of next year in South Korea.

Should he also be barred from the 2012 Games? If he is barred, doesn't that have the real-world effect of extending his suspension from less than two years to nearly three? Is that fair?

Yes, he could perhaps run in, say, Diamond League events. But not the Games? As his lawyer, Howard Jacobs, put it in an interview, "To say it's anything other than a sanction is really to ignore how important the Olympics are."'

To frame the issue differently, consider the familiar saying -- you do the crime, you do the time. Emphasizing that in this context these sorts of sports doping cases are not criminal and considering merely that such a saying is so well-known: Once you do your time, then what? Do you have the right to -- using Merritt as the example -- run again freely?

Or is appearing in the Olympic Games not a "right"? Is it a "privilege"? And if it's a "privilege," do organizers have the authority to set whatever conditions they wish for entry?

Clearly, the IOC has an interest in blunting athlete use of performance-enhancing drugs. No one disputes that. The issue is how to go about doing so fairly.

The three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel invited the IOC to take part in its consideration of Merritt's case. The IOC declined, saying that if "any party intends to challenge any IOC decision, it may do so in front of the appropriate international jurisdiction, which is not the AAA."

No matter which way the appeal finally goes, it's worth remembering that any system of jurisprudence works best, and engenders the most respect, when it is grounded in common sense.

Thus the wish here is both that the appeal is rendered quickly, and that due attention is paid to these sentiments near the close of the ruling issued Monday (for ease of reading, broken here into two paragraphs instead of one) :

"… The principles of Olympism (i.e., respect for universal fundamental ethical principles such as fairness and human dignity) require a resolution of this issue sooner than later. Mr. Merritt should know where he stands in all aspects of his competitive career after the conclusion of this case, which would include appeals.

"His competitors in the United States should know. USATF and the USOC should know. Delaying the final determination of whether The Unpublished Memo conforms to mandatory provisions of the [World Anti-Doping] Code cheats athletes and sports organizations around the world."