PARIS -- The indignities and intrusions athletes accept as a price of competing at the highest levels of sport are considerable. From dawn to an hour before midnight, they must be prepared to open their doors to drug testers. They must urinate in front of the sample collectors. Because they often take blood samples, too, the testers are sometimes nicknamed "vampires" by athletes who hold out their arms for the needles.
Fine. All in the name of clean sports. Because they want to be sure, as sure as one can be, that they're not lining up against cheats doped to the gills, athletes accept these and other constraints that many of us would balk at and forfeit rights, like the right to not be roused from bed to fill a sample bottle, that we cherish.
But, for the system to work, this has to be a quid pro quo. If athletes are to be held rigorously to account, then the doping police and sports administrators must be, too. Everyone needs to play by the rules. If administrators don't, then why should athletes?
That's a question thrown up by a ruling this week from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This case involved China, the 2008 Olympic host that is disappointing hopes that organizing the games might somehow force dramatic gains in human rights there.
Chinese judoka Tong Wen, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2009 World Championships where she won in her heavyweight category.
The issue here, however, is not so much the drug but Tong's allegations that she was shoddily treated by Chinese judo officials. Bravely taking on the establishment in China, she told the CAS that Chinese officials misled her, told her to keep quiet and, it seems, even got her to lie.
An element that makes her claims believable is that Tong is not the first Chinese athlete who has struggled to defend themselves against doping charges. Cyclist Li Fuyu says he is still no closer to learning what his fate will be after he, too, tested positive for clenbuterol nearly a year ago. Chinese swimming authorities have also thumbed their nose at the World Anti-Doping Agency by insisting that they won't let swimmer Ouyang Kunpeng return to competition, as allowed under WADA rules, after he served his two-year ban for a positive clenbuterol test in 2008.
Tong told the arbitration court that Chinese Judo Association vice president Song Zhaonian told her "not to discuss her case with anyone" and misled her, wrongly advising that she could face a longer ban if she exercised her right for a follow-up test on her sample. Tong says the official also told her it would be better if she simply accepted the positive result and, again wrongly, said she might get a reduced ban and even be allowed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics if she didn't challenge her test result.
As so often with the Chinese government, which is resisting the type of people-power changes now reshaping the Middle East, the treatment of Tong was paternalistic and patronizing, with individual dignity seemingly pushed to the background: accept our judgment and perhaps mercy will be delivered.
According to Tong, Chinese officials also directed her to draft a mea culpa in which she wrote "I don't want to defend my self for such case, as I know that I should be responsible for it."
Before the World Championships where she tested positive, Tong spent five weeks at Chinese training camps, living and, more importantly, eating only at those camps, according to someone who helped with her defense but who would not speak on the record for fear of angering Chinese authorities.
Yet, in her written confession which a Chinese official allegedly reviewed and even revised before it was sent to the International Judo Federation, Tong wrote that she "went for barbecue with some friends" and that meat she ate there was most likely contaminated with clenbuterol, explaining her positive test.
In fact, says the person who helped with her defense, the barbecue story was fabricated, possibly as a face-saver to spare Chinese officials any awkward questions about whether food at their training camps might be contaminated with clenbuterol, a muscle-building, fat-burning drug widely and illegally used by livestock farmers in China to bulk up their animals.
Reached by phone, the Chinese Judo Association wouldn't respond to Tong's allegations. A man who answered the phone but who refused to identify himself by name said the association hadn't received the CAS ruling. Association officials were at an Olympic qualifying competition in Germany and have turned off their mobile phones and so couldn't be reached for comment, the man said.
Song, the CJA vice president named in the CAS ruling, also refused to address Tong's allegations. Contacted by phone, he said he has retired and "didn't get involved in handling the case." He then hung up.
The International Judo Federation didn't actually bother to attend the hearing that CAS held in January or even send lawyers to represent it. But, in written submissions, it said Tong presented no evidence or witness to support her claim that "she was misinformed or betrayed by the CJA."
This saga ended well for Tong. CAS' panel of three arbitrators cleared her this week on a technicality, saying that the IJF did not adhere to testing regulations. Tong can compete again and gets back her World Championship gold.
But, in taking that route, the CAS unfortunately didn't address Tong's allegations that, from the outset, Chinese officials leaned on her to put up and shut up, to accept guilt and their bad, self-serving advice rather than use the rights available to all athletes to challenge positive tests.
That is an opportunity missed. For anti-doping to work, it has not just to be fair but also seen to be fair. Everyone involved, administrators included, has to be policed as stringently as the athletes.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org