Time Served

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.


racheinderbys said…
I don't know what drug(s) he took, but surely if he grew bigger stronger muscles because of them, he has a persistent advantage over non-drug-taking athletes? You can argue that drug taking should be allowed, but if you are going to ban drugs, and the drugs give you an advantage for the rest of your life, then surely you should be banned for the rest of your life.
Heresiarch said…
That's an original perspective. I don't know enough about the science to answer it, but I was under the impression that body-building drugs only speeded up the development of muscles that could be developed "naturally". Without continued hard training, the muscles would go back to normal fairly quickly, I would imagine. But if someone knows the answer I'd be interested.

In any case, UK Athletics weren't using that argument. The question for me is, seeing he has served his punishment, why not let bygones be bygones? If he had been banned for life originally it would have been different. But he wasn't.
Anonymous said…
The authorities' aim must be to discourage athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs. I accept that Dwain has paid his dues, but I wonder if his short ban and speedy reselection could make other athletes consider the risk is worth it. I also hear that he hasn't been tested at all for the duration of his ban.

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