American athletics great Michael Johnson believes the current focus on the right of former dopers to compete at the Olympics has become too personal and should be aimed at the governing bodies.
The four-time Olympic champion, who still holds the world record for the 400m, was speaking a day after Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova was booed before the final of the women’s 100 metres breaststroke.
Efimova, who returned from a 16-month drugs suspension in 2015, has become a central figure in the debate about Russia’s involvement at Rio 2016, as she twice had to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport this year to overturn bans.
New American swimming sensation Lilly King won the race, beating Efimova into second place, and afterwards repeated her earlier statement that the Russian should not have been there, a stance shared by other swimmers.
When asked in a highly-charged press conference on Monday if that meant two-time drugs offender Justin Gatlin should be on United States athletics team, King said: “Do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team? They shouldn’t.
“It is unfortunate we have to see that. It is just something that needs to be set in stone that this is what we are going to do.”
Johnson, who was speaking in Rio at a press conference to promote Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Olympics, said he backed King’s right to speak her mind but said athletes should direct their anger at the authorities, not other athletes.
“What you have to look at is the rules, and the rules allow (Gatlin) to be on the team – it’s not about Justin, it’s about the rules,” the 48-year-old told Press Association Sport.
“Now, if I was making the rules, nobody who failed a drugs test would be on the team, you would serve at least a four-year ban and miss an Olympics. Then, maybe, you’d be free to come back, if you wanted.
“But you’re not going to solve the problem by pointing a finger at an athlete and making that athlete the villain.
“OK, the athlete has been a villain and has done damage to the sport and I don’t appreciate that.
“But the athlete is not the one making the rules that allow him to get back on the track or in the pool or on the field. That is the (International Olympic Committee), the (International Association of Athletics Federations), all the federations – that is where that ire should be pointed at to bring about change.”
Joining Johnson at the LA 2024 event was another four-time Olympic champion, swimming star Janet Evans.
A triple gold-medallist at the 1988 Games, Evans believes the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency are “committed” to finding the right answer for tackling drugs cheats but said she was “proud” of the 19-year-old King for “putting her money where her mouth was”.
When asked by Press Association Sport if the personal attacks on Efimova, who was distraught after the race, had gone too far, Evans said: “She was probably in pieces because she didn’t win.
“I’m a purist, it’s about getting out there and racing to win. I lost a gold by 19 hundredths of a second and I cried for an hour. You know the sun is going to come up tomorrow but it hurts.
“I don’t know her personally, but she didn’t get the medal she wanted.”
Evans, however, did accept that this debate should not become a repeat of the Cold War era of claim and counter-claim.
“(Efimova) did have a positive test but doping is not just a Russian problem,” she said.
“It’s a global problem and I think the IOC and WADA recognise that.”
Press Association Sport