The sprinter Dwain Chambers was caught using a performance enhancing substance a few years ago, and banned from athletics for two years. That period of suspension is now over. Not unnaturally, he wishes to be allowed to compete for his country again, initially in the World Indoor Championships in Valencia next month.
Since he has showed his fitness, indeed superiority, in his chosen event, UK Athletics have had no choice but to select him. They did so, however, under duress, and bemoaned the fact today in a statement of quite extraordinary gracelessness:
The committee was unanimous in its desire not to select Dwain. Taking him to the World Indoors deprives young, upwardly mobile, committed athletes of this key development opportunity. Our World Class Performance Programme is focused on achievement at Olympic and World level. On this basis, it is extremely frustrating to leave young athletes at home; eligible for Beijing, in possession of the qualifying standard and committed to ongoing participation in a drug-free sport.
Unfortunately, the committee felt that the selection criteria pertaining to the winner of the trials, coupled with the manner of Dwain's performance, left them no room to take any other decision.
Indeed, the board of UK Athletics expressed a desire to alter the rules (retroactively, they implied) so that they wouldn't have to select him in future. He remains, for the time being at least, banned from competing in the Olympics, but has announced his intention to challenge this in court.
I'm with Dwain on this one. He was foolish, indeed stupid, given the rigour with which drugs in sport are now policed. And, of course, he broke the rules. But he has served his punishment and, against the odds, come back as strong as ever and this time, we must assume, clean. To impose a life ban would not only be unfair on him, it would deprive the country of the medals he has shown himself potentially capable of winning. He should also be allowed, if he qualifies, to go to the Peking games. Britain should send the best available team to the Olympics, and if that team contains a man who has previously been suspended then so be it.
A "zero tolerance" policy is regressive, vindictive and denies the capacity for change and repentance. It also, in the case of a world-class athlete like Chambers, amounts to the country shooting himself in the foot. UK Athletics should welcome him back.