Eight years before the efforts of O'Connor and Waterford Crystal, Michelle Smith brought home to Ireland a collection of 3 gold medals and a bronze medal from her efforts in the swimming pool. The feat remains one of the more impressive in Olympic history. A couple of years later, Smith was landed in a controversy involving the tampering with a urine sample. This was the context in which the news of Waterford Crystal's failed drug test arrived.
The hope is that the darker doping days are behind Irish sport. However, Irish sport competitors continue to fall foul of the tests. Only last month the Irish Independent reported on a failed test for a League Of Ireland soccer player (here). A few months earlier, it was reported that a gaelic footballer failed a drugs test (here). In September, a slightly humorous story appeared where an Irish trainer was fined over a substance found in a horse's bedding (here). And, it is just over a year since an Irish horse trainer was banned over having a prohibited substance (here). Despite these setbacks there does seem to be a rigorous system of testing in Ireland driven by the Irish Sport Council (see 2013 test numbers below). Partly as a result of this system, there was never going to be an issue over Katie Taylor's gold from London 2012. It is crucial that there is confidence in this system for Irish sport.
One of the more damaging elements of the recent controversies involving FIFA and IAAF is the way they undermine our confidence in those charged with running a sport. It means we are likely to dismiss good news stories and impressive performance. Earlier this year, the Minister for Agriculture reported that only 2 out of 3,085 tests on horses in 2014 revealed positive tests for prohibited substances (here). Surely a good news story. However, if people stop having confidence in the governing bodies of sport then will the test results be interpreted perversely. Then a failure rate of 2 out of 3,085 could be used as lacking credibility. Will they then point to the dramatic rise in the number of Irish winners at Cheltenham (here)? And so forth.
It is critical that there is confidence in the governing body of a sport and those charged with testing for illegal drug use. This credibility will come from how they conduct their business because there is little oversight. According to a Roger Pielke, writing in the Financial Times, the World Anti-Doping Agency offer little by way of guidance of how to deal with problematic sporting bodies or nations (here). Pielke points out that the WADA code, "has 5,300 words about how to punish athletes who transgress, but only 47 words on penalties for sports bodies and nothing at all on nations that break the rules". In this sort of context, how confidence can we be that Russia will clean up its act? Not much, if you were to read Matthew Syed's work in either Bounce or in The Times. Ireland is no Russia but there are no grounds for complacency.