The lawyer who handled the Kenteris-Thanou case

He teaches law at the University of Buckingham, in the UK, and has represented famous athletes implicated in doping cases. Grigoris Ioannidis, 35, talks about his career and perhaps his most famous case of all, when he represented Greek athletes Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who failed to show up for a doping test on the eve of the 2004 Athens Olympics and were forced to withdraw from the competition. Ioannidis himself has been an amateur basketball player since he went to high school in Drama, northern Greece, but his ambitions in that direction were thwarted by injury and career choices. «So I gave up sports and came here (to the UK) to study law and then specialized in the relatively new area of sports law, taught only at a few universities in Britain and the USA,» he said in this interview with K, Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement. Ten years ago, would you have predicted that there would be as many doping cases as there have been this year? It was to be expected. When I was studying, there were interesting theoretical issues, such as the relationship between sports law and society. By the time I had finished, the legal aspect of sports had been completely revised, thanks to the Bosman case, on which I did my thesis. I specialized in drugs and anabolic steroids in sport and did a PhD on the criminalization of doping. At the same time, I was taking on cases in sports law as an adviser. What was your first major case? The case of Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand in 2003… Although Ferdinand was my client, when you have the support of a team like that, you have the conditions to set up a research group and use the media. I act as a freelancer, on a case-by-case basis, but whenever Manchester United has a problem, they seek my advice. What do you think of Ben Johnson’s idea of everyone being allowed to be doped? There is that thought but I don’t believe it will happen because the basic principle governing sports teams is the protection of the athletic ideal. That is what all the rules are built upon and on which all penalties are imposed, so if you legalize doping, the sports organizations lose the game. Moreover, there will be too many legal complications with athletes who had been punished in the past bringing lawsuits. 2004 nightmare So we come to (the trainer of Kenteris and Thanou) Christos Tzekos’s famous saying: «Only those who are caught are found to have doped.» I don’t know what Christos had in mind when he said that, but it is an important observation and can be read on many levels. Did you expect such a mix-up? That in Greece they would be looking to test a potential Olympic torch-bearer? Will they do that in Beijing, for example? It all happened that night the way it did because in Greece there were people in very important posts for which they had neither the qualifications nor the experience. It was unbelievable. We are continually analyzing the case. Over the past two years we have gone back over each stage piece by piece and it is full of tragic mistakes. Such as? For example, the news was that the athletes had been informed that they were wanted for testing but in fact they hadn’t. Generally, everything pointed to the fact that the most unsuitable people were in positions of responsibility. It all happened because Greece had an international reputation (I am very sorry to say) as a country that was completely disorganized and indecisive. They knew that they could come to Greece and carry out their decisions because there would be no reaction. In fact, those who had the power and the ability to make decisions and stop what was happening preferred to sit on the fence. Where were you that night? I was right here in my office. I had a phone call from the BBC asking me to comment on the events. They told me what had happened in Athens and, as you can expect, I was shocked. Not so much because two Greek athletes were involved, but because the major mistakes that occurred, one after the other, seemed quite clear from the outset, even from a distance. Can you give me another example? That they told the media. You never announce something like that before the athlete concerned has gone through the appropriate procedure. How did you get on the case? Costas Kenteris called me. He came to London and we had a talk. We analyzed the legalities of the case and I represented him, initially, before the SEGAS (Greece’s track and field federation) judiciary committee. But not Katerina Thanou? No. We reached agreement with Katerina when (the International Amateur Athletic Federation) IAAF announced that it was to appeal SEGAS’s ruling to the (Court of Arbitration for Sport) CAS in Lausanne. That was when she asked me to represent her there. So what actually happened in Lausanne? I can’t give you details of the case. Simply, at the final hearing, which happened last June after two postponements, the IAAF settled with the athletes. So why is the penalty in force until December 2006, if I remember rightly? It is not a penalty but a suspension. According to the agreement, the IAAF would withdraw its appeal and not impose a penalty, but the suspension imposed on December 22, 2004, would continue for the full two years. I imagine that the non-imposition of a penalty would protect athletes from sponsors wanting their money back and so on? For us the main issue was the athletes’ honor and standing, which had been damaged by a number of unbelievable omissions. Things never should have reached the point they did. The right moves should have been made on August 12, 2004, then the athletes could have competed in the Games. But there is no point looking back at what could have happened. No one will ever know. What’s done is done. As a 35-year-old who has made it outside Greece, what do you have to say to your fellow countrymen? What should or shouldn’t they do? They have to become more open in their ideas and perceptions. Naturally, Greeks have the special gift of adapting quickly and immediately to difficult situations, but that should be a virtue and not become a failing. We could do better if we were closer to European views because, whether we like it or not, we have chosen to be a part of this great new country called the European Union. There is no place for cunning there. Whatever Greeks have achieved has been through their intelligence and their resourcefulness, not their cunning. What else should Greeks do away with? Their navel gazing. The global family is getting bigger. The others aren’t always right, but we can’t always be outside the mold. Nor can we believe what we hear on Greek TV, that the whole world revolves around Greece. (1) Both of the articles on this page first appeared in the October 29, 2006 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.