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Olympic drug hotline a good idea, if only for public relations reasons

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game

Being linked to the word "snitch" likely wasn't what the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport had in mind for its latest initiative. But outside of conjuring up thoughts of spying on your friends and turning in your family, the centre's latest anti-doping campaign is a pretty astute move.

The anti-doping agency announced Tuesday that it is setting up an anonymous tip line heading into the Sochi Games to encourage athletes to report any suspicions about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The centre says the initiative is in response to athletes' demands for a clean sport environment.

It is also to help avoid the embarrassment caused by cyclist Ryder Hesjedal's recent admission of doping and to hopefully get Canada out of the giant shadow cast by Ben Johnson's positive drug test 25 years ago.

“No one wants to see a Canadian athlete receive a medal on Friday only to see it taken away on Saturday,” said centre president and CEO Paul Melia. “We lived that once. We don’t want to live it again.”

All Canadians are with him on that one, especially those who lived through the agony of Johnson's experience in Seoul.

But the line's potential for success is debatable.

First off, there's the possibility of abuse. Say a snowboarder believes that his main competition for a spot on the Olympic team is looking for an edge and makes an anonymous call to say that said competitor is fuelling with something other than Wheaties. Even if there's no truth to the claim, an investigation might be enough to unnerve the accused and affect his performance.

When people are granted anonymity, anything is possible. Just look at the nastiness on display in online forums.

But even with anonymity, the hotline might not even get used.

Athletes who cheat tend not to advertise the fact, unless they're sharing their dirty PED secrets with fellow cheaters. Those who live in test-tube houses aren't likely to cast stones.

Others might be reluctant to finger those they believe are doping because anonymity is a relative term. The world they live in is very small and consequences can be nasty.

A bobsledder who thinks that a competitor is gaining an edge through chemical means might think twice about turning in the offender if there's any chance the alleged offender might figure out who fingered him.

But that doesn't mean the hotline is a bad thing. Anything that could increase the chances of catching cheaters should be welcomed.

And even if it produces no reports, it's a great public relations move. Canada can be seen as a country that's serious about catching dopers.

As Yahoo's Steve Mertl points out, Canada is hardly one of the worst offenders in the world of doping. But the name of Ben Johnson still hangs over our Olympic program a quarter century after the fact and anything that helps avoid that embarrassment should be welcomed.

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