Case of Johnson v Athletics Canada and IAAF (Ontario Court of Justice, Canada, 25.7.97)
Issues: Doping; lifetime ban; validity of sanction; restraint of trade; denial of natural justice
Ben Johnson, was banned for two years in 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul, where he ran 100m sprint in 9.79 second! He tested positive for stanozolol, the use of which his coach did not deny. He was attacked by Carl Lewis, who was given the gold medal. Linford Christie moved up to the silver medal and won gold at the next Games. All of them, including Dennis Mitchell and Desai Williams, were at some point suspected of doping.
In 1993, Ben Johnson competed in Montreal and was tested after the race. The sample tested positive and Johnson did not exercise his right of appeal under the rules of Athletics Canada (AC) and the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF). He was therefore banned for life. Johnson applied to the Ontario Court of Justice for a declaration that the lifetime ban issued against him by AC and the IAAF, which barred his participation in athletics events, was contrary to the common law doctrine of restraint of trade.
In his application, Johnson claimed that he had not appealed because of apprehension regarding the partiality of the Appeal Committee. Johnson’s primary submission was that the lifetime ban constituted restraint of trade. He also claimed that he had been denied justice under Natural Law because the proceedings of the IAAF and AC in 1993 had been unfair.
Under the Restraint of Trade issue, Johnson contended that the lifetime ban constituted restraint of trade in the form of an activity from which he earned his livelihood. The Court of Justice accepted that the lifetime ban was in restraint of trade because AC and IAAF enabled Johnson to exploit his talents in order to earn a living. It was clear that the financial gain resulted from participation in competitions.
However, the ban was deemed reasonable and was not an illegal restraint of trade because it was necessary to protect Johnson from the effects of use of prohibited substances for the sake of his own health. It was also necessary to protect the right of athletes to fair competition and to know that the race involved only their own skill, strength and spirit rather than their pharmacologist. The public also had an interest in the protection of the integrity of the sport.
As to the Denial of Natural Justice, Johnson argued that the actions and proceedings of the IAAF and AC in 1993 had been unfair and that, as a result, he had been denied natural justice. The constituent elements of natural justice had been set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v Hoffer (1992): “The content of the principles of natural justice is flexible and depends on the circumstances in which the question arises. However, the most basic requirements are that of notice, opportunity to make representations and an unbiased tribunal.” Johnson was at all times represented by counsel, entitled to hearings and presentation of evidence, but had failed to avail himself of any of the various opportunities available to him for further hearings on the merits. Thus, degree of fairness under the Natural Law was met.
Ben Johnson’s case is actually one of the long line of stanozolol cases – so long that Wikipedia has its own entry: List of Doping in Sport, Stanozolol Sec. 1.6. Stanozolol abuse began almost immediately after it was discovered and brought to market in 1962 under the tradenames Winstrol and Stromba. It can be legitimately used in senile post-menopausal osteoporosis, debility in elderly patients, some gastrointestinal disorders, trauma, anemia, during post-operative convalescence, and it is also used as a veterinary drug to stimulate appetite and weight gain; but even in veterinary medicine, it is used sparingly because it may cause tumors.