Jamaica vows to improve anti-doping efforts
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- Jamaica's top sports official said Wednesday that the Caribbean sprinting powerhouse is determined to improve its drug-testing regime, following a two-day inspection by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Three WADA officials inspected the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission after revelations of a near-complete breakdown of its out-of-competition testing of athletes from January 2012 to the July opening of the London Olympics, where it won eight of 12 individual sprint medals. Additionally, eight Jamaican athletes, including former world record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic 400-relay gold and silver medalist Sherone Simpson, have delivered positive tests this year.
Natalie Neita-Headley, Jamaica's minister with responsibility for sports, told a news conference Wednesday that the WADA visit was "constructive" and that the government awaits their report.
"We have come out of those meetings having a greater commitment to working closer together in partnership to ensure that JADCO advances and becomes not only world class but best in its class," Neita-Headley said.
"Our focus going forward is on strengthening and building capacity, in collaboration with our partners."
Jamaica's anti-doping agency will soon receive additional support from WADA and The International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field's governing body, according to Neita-Headley. She declined to disclose specifics of that support, outside of WADA's assistance in setting up a new JADCO website.
A WADA spokesman declined to comment about the visit to Jamaica. The three officials who visited Jamaica did not speak to the media.
To improve its anti-doping programs, JADCO's budget rose by 14 percent this year compared to last year, according to Neita-Headley, and additional funding is being sought. A new executive director was recently named to lead the five-year-old organization and other staff positions are being filled. So far this year, JADCO says it has done 286 tests, roughly 45 percent of them out-of-competition. It also has plans to commence blood analysis tests.
The debate over the rigor of Jamaica's anti-doping efforts has raged for years, as the island of 2.7 million people has consistently racked up more medals in track and field than countries 10 times its size.
But this year, statistics compiled by former JADCO director Renee Anne Shirley revealed that just one out-of competition test was done between February 2012 and the start of the London Olympics five months later. She said that when she raised concerns, no JADCO or Cabinet official would take them seriously.
Shirley's revelations were alarming enough to prompt action outside Jamaica, despite been viewed by critics and former colleagues as a turncoat at home. While WADA has audited the island's testing regime before, Director General David Howman has said the special inspection this week is a direct response to the problems she exposed and to the string of positive doping tests this year.
JADCO recently fueled speculation that Jamaica has a hidden cheating culture when it told the Montreal-based organization that the inspection could not be made until early 2014, despite an August invitation from Jamaica's prime minister and WADA's indication that it was available to visit. Its call for a delay raised many eyebrows, even prompting WADA President John Fahey to call it "farcical" and "unacceptable" in an interview.
To improve its image, Neita-Headley said more emphasis will be placed on JADCO's communication with the outside world, so that information can be disclosed in a "more timely and responsive manner." She noted that Jamaica has a long history of sporting success and says it is committed to fair play.
"Some people would like to believe that it's (our success) for some other reason than natural talent. And so we are improving our communication strategy to ensure that we can meet the demand of a country that is doing so well," she said.
It's not just Jamaica that tests its world-beating sprinters, the IAAF said it extensively tested elite Jamaican athletes, including the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, last year. The IAAF's out-of-competition testing for Jamaica concentrated on athletes' training camps and was "robust and comprehensive," spokesman Chris Turner has told the AP.
Led by Bolt, Jamaica's record haul of 12 medals at the London Olympic surpassed the 11 it won in Beijing in 2008. The Jamaican team also departed Moscow's world championships earlier this year with nine medals, including six golds.
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