12 Mar 2012

The Olympics, drugs and Dwain Chambers

Should Dwain Chambers be allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympics despite being banned for doping? Opinion doesn’t matter, writes Sports Reporter Keme Nzerem – it all comes down to the law.

The trouble with Dwain Chambers is he’s a really nice bloke who made a life defining mistake. In fact, the mistake he made has come to represent more than just the travails of a single former drug cheat. His attempts at redemption have become the stage for the very credibility of Britain’s hard-line stance on performance enhancing drugs in sport.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Chambers is sorry. And if the man who is quietly running interference for him behind the scenes is to be believed, he’s one of the few athletes banned for doping who’s ever done the right thing. After being caught, he “fessed up” and, eventually, helped the investigators. This, says his agent, sets him apart from the rest.

The rest, being those who cite myriad excuses for returning positive tests. Like contamination. Or spiked supplements. Or, for example, the case of American 400m runner LeShawn Merritt, who argued the substance that led to his ban came from applying a penis enlargement unguent.

So Chambers’ agent’s point is this: doesn’t anyone who washes their sins in public to try to make amends deserve a second chance? After they’ve done their time, of course – which he now has. Chambers was banned for two years in 2003. And ever since, he’s competed at the fringes of top level athletics. He’s not welcome at the most prestigious meets where competition is toughest.

Yet he still manages to turn in the kind of times over 60m or 100m that most of us could only manage in a car. Now, Britain’s fastest man might not be about to dethrone a certain Mr Bolt, but he’s clearly a dedicated athlete. And while many of his teammates will never forgive him, he’s popular and well liked. You know that phrase “elder statesman”? Well, it’s hackneyed – but in Dwain’s case it is true.

Read more: London 2012 anti-doping operation biggest ever
Britain's Dwain Chambers (C) competes in the men's 60m qualifications at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships (Getty)

So no doubt his story has a moral dimension.

But his opponents have a compelling argument too. Right now – in Britain – the law is clear: if you are caught doping, you will never, ever be allowed to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games. It’s not a punishment, they say, for convicted drugs cheats have already been banned. It’s more a code of honour. It’s our party, the BOA say, and if you’ve ever taken drugs, your name will never be on the door. Ever.

It’s a weighty deterrent – even if it is slightly unfair. For Britain is almost entirely alone in having zero tolerance for drugs cheats, reformed or otherwise. And other nations will now be sending former convicted dopers – like the aforementioned LeShawn Merritt of the USA – to run in our own Olympics this summer.

Morals, however, are one thing. The law, of course, is another.

Today the British Olympic Association will begin its bid to keep Chambers and other British athletes who resorted to drugs to make them go faster out of their team

But the decision will be based not on what it, or indeed the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for Sport, thinks is “the right thing to do”, but on arid legal argument. The CAS is convening to consider one thing and one thing only – and most learned observers believe Dwain will soon be cleared to don an Olympian’s vest again.

The issue comes down to this: are the BOA’s team selection criteria compliant with the punishments set by the global authority on drugs in sport, the World Anti Doping Agency? Crucially, the BOA is a signatory to Wada’s code.

So the answer will be decided on something far, far removed from the whys and wherefores of how to keep one step ahead of the dopers. The moral high ground of a “one strike and you are out” deterrent is likely to be irrelevant. And whether Chambers’ ineligibility in fact constitutes double jeopardy – for has he not already served his ban – is also likely to count not a jot.

The key document the court will consider is the narrow formal legal contract that binds the BOA with Wada. This was signed not in the annals of history but a few short years ago, after in fact doper Dwain turned into nice bloke Dwain. The outcome will ultimately reflect not the weighty moral arguments, but something far less exciting: British company law.

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