As I was watching the 50-meter butterfly final at the World Swimming Championships in Shanghai I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with the results. I was right: Cesar Cielo won the gold medal and, at least for what I think, fairness lost. Being a passionate sports fan, I cannot help but be indignant towards every sportive injustice: who doesn’t remember Henry’s handball against Ireland, that qualified France for the World Cup instead of Trapattoni’s team, or the ball that clearly crossed the line in Germany-England of the 2010 World Cup but the referee didn’t give? I had almost the same reaction I had back then, when Cielo touched the end of the pool and the graphic said he was first.
In May 2011 at the Brazilian Championship in Rio, Cesar Cielo and three other Brazilian swimmers were found positive to Furosemide, a diuretic on the list of the banned substances (mainly because it can act as a masking agent, hiding the presence of other banned substances). All four justified the presence of the diuretic by saying it was due to food poisoning. The CBDA (Brazilian Confederation of Aquatic Sports) believed them and decided that it was enough to give the athletes a warning. What could they do? Disqualify four of their team players, one of them being a probable gold medalist in the World Swimming Championships, just before the said championships start?
…Cielo could therefore swim without any problem in Shanghai.
The FINA (international swimming federation) decided to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the decision of the Brazilian federation, asking for three months stop for Cielo and his teammates. The CAS however dismissed FINA’s appeal and confirmed the warning. Cesar Cielo could therefore swim without any problem in Shanghai. And there he was, on the 25th of July, in tears after winning the gold medal in the 50-meter butterfly final, describing his victory as the hardest of his life. So now, after a gold medal, he could still win two more, in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle. Just like that.
We saw him at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle and the bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle. We saw him at the 13th FINA World Championships in Rome in 2009, and he was on the top step of the podium after both finals. This shows he probably has the power to win everything without doping and possibly proves that Furosemide really was not in his body on purpose. However, if a substance is on the banned list and is considered doping, is it right not to punish the athletes because it was not done “on purpose”? Shouldn’t the fact that it was there be enough to ban an athlete?
It is probably not easy to accept the victory of an athlete when the doubts remain…
I am clearly not the only one who remains sceptic on the subject: some swimmers believe in the Brazilian’s words, some refuse to comment and others disagree with the CAS’s decision. It is probably not easy to accept the victory of an athlete when the doubts remain. On the other hand some athletes could think they can do the same while remaining unpunished. A similar case happened in cycling with Alberto Contador whose hearing on the doping case keeps on being postponed (and might end just like Cielo’s, unpunished); in the meantime he won the Giro d’Italia and raced the Tour de France.
The decision of the CAS to wash its hands of it is just another blow to sports, pushing it in the opposite direction of what it should be. And when I think about it there’s just one line in my head: “It’s not fair.”
Images courtesy of Cesar Cielo