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Peter Bol is a runner, not a footballer, but he has been kicked around like a ball.
Bol has now been cleared of doping. Not only is he cleared, Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) admits his first failed drug test was not failed at all.
Peter Bol’s name was smeared, but he was eventually cleared of sports doping.Credit: Getty
When it comes to a howling mistake for not doing the one job it was supposed to do, this error by SIA is as bad as it gets.
Bol was accused and provisionally banned based on a drug test that a majority of world experts at laboratories around the globe now conclude should not have come back positive. He has had to wear the life-changing smear of being accused of being a drug cheat. That stain does not lightly wipe away.
When the first retesting of Bol’s blood samples for EPO came back inconclusive, his provisional ban was lifted, but he was not cleared. Authorities said there could be any number of reasons that produce inconclusive results, including degradation of a sample. So, while that test didn’t clear him, it also didn’t convict him.
Bol’s US-based lawyer, Paul Greene, at that time immediately called for his client to be cleared.
“We are in an evidence-based world. They have the burden to prove he did something wrong to the comfortable satisfaction of any hearing panel, and they can’t do that. There is no urine test to prove anything,” Green said at the time.
SIA said it needed to go over the evidence again, retest the samples and interview more people, and so continued to investigate. But despite analysing not only his body fluids but his bank accounts, phone records, computer and internet search history, it could find no corroborating malfeasance from Bol.
Scientists say that, of all the performance-enhancing drugs they test for, EPO is about the hardest to accurately detect because there is a high level of subjectivity in interpreting the results. Yet SIA appears never to have doubted itself.
Even now, in admitting the world experts had contradicted their findings, SIA could not bring itself to offer an apology to Bol.
The SIA statement on Tuesday announcing the end of the investigation cleared Bol of doping, and acknowledged that experts had decided his first positive test – his A sample – should not have been deemed positive for EPO. But the statement did not include words to the effect of, “sorry, we got it wrong, we don’t think you’re a drug cheat”.
Instead, SIA congratulated itself for following all the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines. Well, good on them.
You know who also followed rules? Peter Bol.
He has paid a financial as well as emotional and professional price for defending himself against a charge SIA and WADA now have to admit should not have been brought.
SIA is answerable to federal Sports Minister Anika Wells. She has more questions to answer now than Peter Bol. How did the doping body she oversees get it so wrong?
The more probing and troubling question for the sport here and worldwide is, was the science flawed or was it applied wrongly?
Is the method of testing for EPO so subjective as to be fraught, or were the scientists in the labs that analysed it looking at it through the wrong lens?
What confidence can any athlete, Australian or not, have in the broad method of testing for EPO? What confidence can an Australian athlete have that, even if the testing process is right, our laboratories and scientists are accurately and reliably reading the results correctly?
The one person who knows the authorities were wrong is Peter Bol.
There had previously been calls, resisted by government, for a Senate inquiry. Those calls need now to be adhered to.
The Senate needs to probe exactly how SIA got it wrong and left an Australian Olympian – an athlete who became the face of the Tokyo Olympics for his thrilling fourth place in the 800-metre race – wrongly accused.
Until January this year when he was suspended, Bol was a finalist for Young Australian of the Year and was the strong favourite to be confirmed days later with that official gong. An athlete who was being celebrated was instead made a pariah. How was he so let down by his sport?
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