by Ian Rogers
*Photos courtesy of Cathy Rogers*
The Australian sports drug testing agency ASADA’s humiliation at the end of the long-running Essendon supplements case will be greeted with grim satisfaction by the local chess community.
ASADA, or more accurately its predecessor ASDA, was singularly unhelpful when Australian international players became subject to World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, drug testing and sought help.
WADA rules require that sports people register any drugs they may be taking for medical reasons, such as asthma drug Ventolin, with their national body.
However when a member of the Australian Chess Olympiad team tried to register with ASDA, he was told that because ASDA did not regard chess as a sport, they would not accept the information – effectively forcing Australian chess players to be in breach of the WADA code. (A refusal to register chess players would mean that Australian internationals were also unable to register their whereabouts for the next 90 days, a requirement for those subject to out-of-competition tests.)
In addition, ASDA refused to provide the Olympic chess team at the time with the drug education which helps other Australian sports people conform with WADA’s complex rules.
This could have had disastrous consequences when a member of the 2002 Bled Olympiad team took two cold tablets before a game which contained a banned ingredient. As luck would have it, that player was the only Australian tested at the end of the match, and problems were anticipated.
Notably, at that time the world chess body FIDE were determined to prove to the International Olympic Committee that chess was a clean sport, to bolster chess’ case for admission to the Olympic Games – which quickly proved to be a futile cause.
To Australia’s surprise and to the extraordinary good fortune of FIDE, every test from the Bled Chess Olympiad – and every subsequent Olympiad and World Cup – has come back with no further action required. With each Olympiad involving thousands of players and multiple tests, such a record would be considered quite extraordinary, even without the curious negative reading of the Australian player in 2002.
FIDE’s hopes for being regarded as a sport with a perfect record has not run entirely smoothly. A handful of amateur players have been caught out by national testing bodies for substances such as Ventolin and a couple penalised by FIDE for refusing Olympiad tests, though FIDE has ensured that the two Grandmasters who refused tests at Olympiads escaped penalty.
Since their early bad experiences with ASDA, Australian Olympic chessplayers have relied on dumb luck and self-education to avoid trouble from drug testing.
So far playing roulette with the system has not led to disaster, though it is clearly not a sustainable strategy for the long term; nor should it be acceptable to the Australian Chess Federation.
However should the Essendon debacle lead to a Senate enquiry and changes to ASADA’s brief, it may be time for the Australian Olympic team headed for Baku in 2016 to try again to convince ASADA to allow Australian chessplayers to be offered the same protection as all other Australian internationals subject to drug testing.