Why Salwa Eid Naser's suspension is so disappointing

By June 08, 2020

On October 3, 2019, eight of the world’s best female runners lined up for the final of the Women 400m final at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Among the eight were Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson, Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and an exciting young talent Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. Also among the finalists were 2017 champion Phyllis Francis, Wadeline Jonathas of the USA, Stephenie-Ann McPherson of Jamaica, and the Polish pair of Justyna Święty-Ersetic and Iga Baumgart-Witan.

They were about to be role players in what was one of the greatest races of the championships and one of the fastest of all time.

About 15 months earlier – July 20, 2018 - about 6000 km away in Monaco, Naser and Miller-Uibo had set the stage for their much-anticipated clash in Doha.

In a stirring battle inside the Stade Louis II, the Bahamian running in lane 6 was pushed to a personal best 48.97 by the young Bahranian - running in lane 5 - who also delivered a lifetime best of 49.08s, clearly demonstrating that she was getting a lot closer to getting a leg up on the towering Bahamian star.

It was the only loss Naser suffered over 400m in 2018.

Fast-forward to October 3, 2019, when Naser is one again in lane 5. This time, however, Miller-Uibo is running in lane 7. Jackson is in lane 3.

People across the globe were expecting something special. Many, including me, smelled a possible upset. Naser had looked strong coming into the final, I daresay as good as Miller-Uibo, the favourite.

The only question in my mind was whether the two 400m legs Naser ran to help Bahrain to the bronze medal in the mixed relays a few days earlier had sapped whatever energy she had left in those powerful legs of hers.

When the gun went, it was immediately clear that Naser was going to be a real threat. She powered down the backstretch steadily closing the gap until she was on the Bahamian’s shoulder with just over 100 metres to go.

Naser then slung off the curve into a three-metre lead over Miller-Uibo and held her immaculate form to cross the line in 48.14 and the claim the gold medal.

The 48.14 was a world-leading time, an area record, a personal best and the third-fastest time in history. Only East Germany’s Marita Koch 47.60 and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvílová 47.99 have run faster.

Like the rest of us who witnessed it, Miller-Uibo, who had just run the sixth-fastest time in history (48.34), sat stunned at what had just transpired.

For weeks, the race was the topic of many conversations as we discussed whether the 35-year-old world record was under legitimate threat.

So imagine my dismay when last week Google alerts brought my attention to the fact that Naser had been provisionally suspended under Article 2.4 of the WADA Code.

Whereabouts violations make little sense to me.

The World Anti-Doping Agency requires that athletes fill out a form online that says where they will be for an hour each day. This allows doping control officers to locate and conduct out-of-competition tests on an athlete.

If an athlete misses three tests in a 12-month period, it is tantamount to a doping violation and the athlete, if found culpable can be banned for up to two years. Mind you, it does not mean an athlete has been doping but it also does not mean they have not.

However, it is the duty of the athlete to ensure that the update their whereabouts. It is not that hard. In this age of smartphones, an athlete can update his or her information on the fly because, in reality, things can change in a hurry.

In recent times, a number of Caribbean athletes have run about of this code. Jamaican cricketer Andre Russell and Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye have been suspended for missing tests.

Track and field athletes know how important it is for them to uphold the integrity of their sport. The flood of doping cases over the past few decades have served to badly taint the sport that it is hard to trust performances because you never truly know.

It has got so bad that even Usain Bolt’s times have been called into question even though he has never failed a dope test in his outstanding career.

So, it is shocking to me that an athlete could manage to miss three Tests in a year. In the case of Naser, it was four, according to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), who also claim that Naser’s third missed test was under investigation while she was powering her way to victory in Doha.

What is even more disappointing is that the gravity of the situation seems to be lost on the young woman.

“It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat,” she said.

“Hopefully, it will get resolved because I really don’t like the image. It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Her comments are shocking to me.

“It can happen to anybody”? It should not be happening. The life of the sport depends on athletes upholding their end of the bargain. Athletics has fallen steadily down the pecking order and is struggling to attract sponsors and it is because of things like this.

In addition, no, it is not going to be fine because now like so many other outstanding athletic performances, there is now a huge cloud of suspicion over that amazing time and incredible race, a cloud that will remain forever over it no matter the outcome of the AIU investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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