On the third day of the Olympics -- as the world knows by now -- John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association (USA office), publicly slammed Ye Shiwen's 400-meter medley win as "disturbing." He wondered aloud if she was possibly doping. He waved the red flag of gender, since her final lap was faster than the final lap by men's gold medalist Ryan Lochte.
The slam had force. It came from a man associated with FINA, governing body of international swimming, which happens to include the Olympics. Given the lightning nature of global media, Leonard's accusation flashed around the world in minutes.
What I find disturbing is Leonard's use of open allegations about matters that are supposed to be dealt with behind closed doors by the IOC.
Ye Shiwen retorts that Leonard is being "unprofessional." And she's right.
IOC rules create a due process for investigating doping and gender questions. Investigations are supposed to be kept confidential for the sake of an athlete's reputation. Investigators are supposed to look at forensic evidence, not speculation. Innocent untill proven guilty, right?
And, gosh, the accused athlete might be innocent. If Leonard was "professional," he would have taken his suspicions quietly to the official channels. But this man acts as if he has no respect for due process, nor any concern for an athlete's reputation.
A couple days later, the London Games stated that Shiwen had passed all her drug tests. So now some American sports authorities, including even the USOC, are distancing themselves from him. Yet Leonard continues to play the crusader, talking on and on with more sweeping allegations about the whole Chinese swimming program.
Shiwen's total race time was actually 20-plus seconds slower than Lochte's.
Leonard's M.O. is nothing new. I'm old enough to remember seeing it used at the Olympics during the Cold War. In 1952, the Soviet Union sent its first team to the Games. Many of their women, hardened by the labor of rebuilding after World War II, were considered "masculine-looking" by Americans. And these "mannish commies" started beating the lipstick off our "feminine" women, especially in many track and field events.
Worse yet, the "godless Soviets" were winning more medals than the "godfearing" U.S. Wasn't God supposed to be on our side?
Anyone who is honest about the history of that dark period knows that the mandatory gender testing of all Olympic female athletes, imposed in 1968, was not primarily aimed at "protecting women from unfair advantage in competition." At the highest levels, the goal was to surgically remove muscular overachiever Eastern Bloc women from the Games so the U.S. could get more medals and "prove" that democracy is better than communism. (Ironically, many of the women who flunked the test and lost their sports careers were Western athletes, not communists.)
Along the way, much was made about the communist sport world's rumored use of steroids. Ironically, steroids were being used underground by U.S. athletes as well.
Now China is the new USSR. And the very day that Leonard accused Ye Shiwen was the day that China first pulled ahead of the U.S. on the London medal count. So the U.S. is back to the old sour grapes.
By now the brouhaha has gotten so heated, with Chinese government weighing in, that it could ruin the London Games and create decades of ill will that will be hard to fix. China demands that Leonard apologize to the 16-year-old swimmer. ESPN columnist Steve Bunce says, "He could and probably should lose his job."
In my opinion, that's not enough. Since his organization is affiliated directly with the Olympics, he should be sanctioned for flouting confidentiality required by IOC rules.
If the IOC wants to go on being respected, they have to stand up for Ye Shiwen. The only way to do that is to mean business about due process. In the superheated sports world of today, it's not only hurtful to athletes, but dangerous, to tolerate any individuals who use public allegations around drugs or gender (or any other issue) as a way to win in the media what they couldn't win in competition.
Find more about Patricia on her Web site. Copyright (c) 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.