|Chambers in his return to the sport in the 2006 European Championships|
A make or break month for Great Britain’s Dwain Chambers began last weekend at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul where the 33 year old Islington born sprinter claimed bronze in the men’s 60m. Chambers went into the competition as defending champion, but was well beaten by Justin Gatlin of the US, who stormed home in 6.46 seconds. Seb Coe remarked that the final was like watching the ‘Rehabilitation of offenders’. Perhaps for Gatlin, but an odd sentiment referring to Chambers in that his own offences date back nearly a decade. Since his return to the sport, the Briton has won 8 major Championship Medals, all of Gold and Silver bar this weekend; for him, Saturday was hardly redemption, nor image defining. For a man who has absorbed such a ferocious media barrage since 2003, Chambers has shown immense humility in both public persona and his work in educating schools and colleges, steering the next generation away from the fateful path which marred his otherwise exceptional career. In light of this, public opinion towards Chambers is positively growing, with an increasing tide of voices believing that his treatment by the UK media has been disproportionately unfair to say the least.
In stark polarity, Justin Gatlin returned home to a hero’s welcome this week just two years after his own ban, stepping off the plane to the patriotic adoration of the American press; no mention of the drug cheat who’s Olympic gold from Athens still hangs on the wall of his Florida home. Of course Gatlin never admitted to knowingly taking any performance enhancing substances. With no straws left to clutch, he pointed the finger at his massage therapist Chris Whetstine, whom he suggests must have rubbed testosterone laced cream into his skin on the fateful day of his positive test. As baffling as it is that attempts are made to construe a positive drugs test in any other way than for what it is, it is further baffling that such a result does not trigger an automatic confession from the accused, if only to clear their conscience, allow rehabilitation and potentially reduce their sentence. In the world of athletics however, Dwain Chambers is the flagship reminder that confessions and apologies do nothing to reduce ones sentence. In his case, his confession proved to do nothing but extend his sentence.
So why is it then, when presented with these two individuals, can one be eligible to run at the London Olympics, but the other not? On one hand, there is Dwain Chambers - a man who served his sentence by 2006, showed remorse in its entirety for his actions and did all in his power to assist those authorities in helping educate future generations to the dangers of replicating his mistakes. One the other, there is Justin Gatlin - a man who was found guilty, but by never admitting his wrongdoing he deprived WADA the opportunity of backdating his offences. As a result of this, he keeps both his personal best of 9.85, every penny of prize money he won up until the day of his positive test, and the gold medals from both the Olympics in 2004 and the World Championships the following year. Of these two, as it stands, Justin Gatlin is eligible to compete at the London Olympics should he qualify, yet Dwain Chambers is not.
Globally, there are 204 National Olympic Committees, each in charge of their own jurisdiction or country for selecting individuals to represent them in Olympic competition. Each body sets its own rules for eligibility and indeed for Olympic selection. Standard procedure in Britain for the last two decades has been simple, major drug offences can carry sentences anywhere up to 2 years. Included in this is the stipulation, or bye law, that the athlete will never again represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games. The BOA introduced this ruling in 1992; it was not the only country that put this in place. However, as time progressed, many argued on moral grounds that although the Olympic ethos encompasses fair play and an even playing field, it also promotes rehabilitation and redemption. Over the two decades since its initiation, more and more National Olympic Committees’s have dropped this stipulation; in 2011 the remaining pockets of resistance, including Canada, New Zealand and Denmark, abolished the outdated ban, leaving Britain as the sole representative of its cause.
As of this moment, 203 of them are in agreement, whilst Great Britain, in true stiff upper lip fashion, has refused to budge. Lord Colin Moynihan’s arguments as to why the BOA are so staunch in their defence seem to have very little empirical grounding, lots of rhetoric and imaginary figures of ‘athlete support’, but athlete support for what exactly? A strong stance against drugs? Yes, says Siza Agha, they probably are in favour, but thats not the question that is being asked here. I met with Agha, Chambers Barrister and agent a few weeks ago: ‘The BOA is acting unlawfully - they have covered themselves in a cloak of righteousness upon what I understand is a completely false premise. I would like to know how dated their statistics are what question was asked of their athletes. If the question was ‘Do you think there should be a tough stance taken against drugs in sport’, then I would expect 100% affirmation which would include Dwain. If the question was ‘Whether in light of the fact that the BOA are the only organisation that is supporting a life ban, and that every anti-doping agency in the world is opposing the BOA because they believe the policy is counterproductive in the fight against drugs in sport, as well as the fact that there will be hoards of sanctioned athletes from every other country at 2012, should the BOA maintain their current position? – I anticipate that like the Emperor’s new clothes, the BOA’s current cloak will be exposed for what it really is.’
|Letting go of the past: After a fractious end to the Europeans in which Campbell (far left) refused to accompany Chambers on a victory lap following their victory in the 4x100m. The two are now back on talking terms.|
It seems the BOA’s argument has lost its focus somewhat; in the public eye it has been angled as the case which decides whether Dwain Chambers runs at the Olympic Games - this is short sighted and it has only garnered such attention because if we’re being completely honest, he is the one man who could sneak a medal in the men’s 100m. Had he not false started in last year’s World Championship semi-final, the 10.14 he ran in the previous heat, comfortably within his capibilities, would have secured him a bronze medal. Of course, for fans of the sport, and for fans of Chambers, this is an important issue, but a side issue nonetheless. Agha believes that it has gone far beyond whether Dwain should or should not compete and is more about Britain failing to adopt advice from the world’s leading Anti-doping authority: ‘As hosts of the games, the BOA should firstly draw on the advice and expertise of those responsible for the fight against drugs in sport, and secondly, apply their minds to the reason every other jurisdiction (recently Canada, New Zealand and Denmark) have amended their rules to comply with WADA and the CAS decision’. Agha, who fought Chamber’s first unsuccessful appeal at the Court of Arbitration for sport in 2008, stated ‘Having read a line of CAS law, for me the CAS decision was not only correct in law but also predictable. The same applies to the BOA bye-law. What I find most disappointing is that the BOA are not viewing the decision as an opportunity to promote tougher sanctions when the code is reviewed.’
In discussing this, Agha referred to the US sanctions currently in place, Justin Gatlin served a 4 year sentence but is now free to compete at the Olympics in a logical approach to punishing offenders more seriously and offering them the chance, should they wish, to redeem themselves both on the track and in the public eye. ‘If they (the BOA) had adopted a more considered course then their views would have been respected and given great weight in such future debate. However, the BOA’s conduct and course over this matter has, in my view, undermined their and indeed the ministers credibility on this topic. The overwhelming majority of worldwide opinion, including I understand the IOC, is that the BOA are simply wrong in their present position. This issue is not about whether an athlete should or should not compete. It is about a worldwide code that has been adopted by every jurisdiction, the harmonisation and adoption of a universal set of rules on drugs in sport. The BOA are undermining the code - the agreement they themselves entered into, as well as the opinions of every other jurisdiction. As a professional I am astonished by the position taken.’
The debate was sparked last year when Lashawn Merritt, defending Olympic 400m Champion overturned his Olympic ban for failing a drugs test by challenging the IOC on Rule 45, which Merritt said represented double jeopardy. His argument was backed by a number of anti-doping agencies including the US Anti-Doping Agency and their counterparts in the UK, Denmark, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. There is a strong feeling in the anti-doping community, epitomised none more so than in Chambers’ case, that the IOC ban deters potential whistle blowers and provides a disincentive for athletes to tell the truth about doping.
Agha’s closing comments present an interesting argument, one that bears weight on both legal and moral grounds:
'As a Barrister my opinion of the Bye Law was formed 2 years ago when I first started working with Dwain. We have been working hard with charity, school and colleges to show that Dwain has a very positive and powerful message that in my view out to be embraced rather than marginalized. There is, in my opinion, no room in a modern democratic society for a draconian policy that in principle is the antithesis of redemption and rehabilitation. Essentially the bye-law represents the notion that if you do something wrong, despite acceptance of guilt, providing assistance to those in authority and doing positive work in the community, you will never be forgiven. Conceptually in my view, this runs against core values, modern thinking and it is certainly not the message that I give to my children.'
Is it time for the BOA to modernize its principles and adapt to the changing environment of global sport? Will upholding its current stance benefit the Olympic Games in light of the fact that all athletes who have served a ban under every other Olympic jurisdiction can now compete freely at London 2012? Stopping Chambers competing certainly won't change that. And of all the athletes who have committed a doping offence, none have shown more remorse, dignity and courage in admitting their wrongdoings, few have come anywhere near garnering the respect that Dwain Chambers has among fellow athletes and fans alike. 2012 is the year to put to bed a chapter that has gone on far too long - It is time to let Dwain Chambers finish his career where he started it, so he may walk away from the sport he loves with the dignity he's earned back from his colleagues, his fans and his sport. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, Dwain has shown us that honesty really is the best policy, London 2012 is our opportunity to show him that forgiveness isn't a bad one either.
You can follow the progress of the court case this month on BBC at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
My thanks to Dwain Chambers and to Siza Agha for meeting me in preparation for this article.