The drugged cricketer December 5, 2006

Justice is done

Kamran Abbasi supports the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs from sport but the authorities need to produce better diagnostic tests and stronger evidence to support the validity of their tests

Shoaib Akhtar says he can breathe again but so can Pakistan's prospects of lifting next year's World Cup. Despite a noble effort by Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir, Pakistan's bowling has a toothless look to it without its premier fast bowlers. Shoaib and Mohammad Asif are capable of taking wickets on any track, a priceless commodity. Welcome back.

Much will be made of their bans being overturned. I can hear the clamour already: "What do you expect from Pakistan cricket, every rule will be bent to protect their star players." Well, my view is that it is better for justice to be done than for the players to be the victims of a witch-hunt. And, let's be clear, several top stars have successfully pleaded a defence in this situation but with higher levels of nandrolone in their urine, take Greg Rusedski for example. The central problem with nandrolone, to my mind, is that the evidence base is not sufficiently strong to end or harm any sportsman's career on the basis of it being found in a urine sample. I fully support the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs from sport but clearly the drugs authorities need to work harder to produce better diagnostic tests and stronger evidence to support the validity of their tests. Nandrolone is a particular problem.

These issues were complicated further by the ramshackle way in which Pakistan players were instructed about drugs. Inevitably there will be denials about the quality of information and the level of supervision that the players received but anybody who has glimpsed the inner workings of Pakistan cricket knows that there is face validity to the findings of the tribunal.

The problem with any hearing that attempts to be fair is that a proportion of people who are guilty will be found to be innocent. Better that, though, than the other way round. In this case, my view is that there was sufficient doubt about the method of raising awareness among players and the process of testing--and further doubt about the wickedness of the players' intentions--for them to be found not guilty. A bad process invariably produces a bad result, which was the outcome of the first hearing.

Pakistan cricket must put this sad affair behind it, learn from its mistakes, and develop a proper process for drugs awareness and monitoring. An urgent review of the PCB's medical panel is required. It has emitted shambolic signals for years. Shoaib and Asif must now be exceptionally diligent about what they consume for there can be no second chance and no second forgiveness.

Above all, Pakistan cricket must now focus on winning the World Cup. And that preparation has to begin with the selection of the team for the second one-dayer, a team that should include Shoaib, Asif, and Shahid Afridi.

Many of you will disagree. But as Martin Luther King once wrote from Birmingham jail: "Injustice anywhere harms justice everywhere."

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here