The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Geneva has now published the reasons for its decision in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s complaint against the British Olympic Association (BOA). The case was WADA’s complaint against BOA rules that ban an athlete caught taking drugs for life. WADA said these rules are unhelpful, and it was inappropiate for different national associations to divert from the global rules set out in the World Anti-Doping Code which precribe a two-year ban. The case, as will be clear from the above summary (and contrary to the impression given by the UK press in particular), was not brought by Dwain Chambers, who did judicially review the BOA prior to the 2008 Olympics, but lost at an interim hearing (the litigation is described in detail in Chamber’s memoirs, about which I’ve posted before; the decision itself is on bailii here).
But Dwain Chambers is the best-know athlete whose current Olympic ban will be determined by the CAS proceedings, and for that reason it’s worth recalling the context to his current ban. Chambers is 34. His best distance is the 100 metres and his fastest time was recorded in 1999, at 9.97 seconds. He came fourth at the Sydney 2000 summer Olympics. In August 2003, Chambers tested positive for Tetrahydrogestrinone (“THG”) a banned substance. Chambers admitted to using THG, indeed went further and admitted to having used it for 18 months before it was detected, with a cocktail of six other banned drugs: testosterone/epitestosterone cream; erythropoietin; insulin; human growth hormone; modafinil; and liothyronine.
The drugs were administered to him as a salve (“the clear” – THG) and a cream (“the cream” – testosterone). Chambers was advised by other athletes not to take drugs, but ignored their advice. He lied about drugs use to his friends, even his physiotherapist. And the drugs had a relatively modest effect. They did not directly increase his body mass, but they enabled him to recover faster from heavy work and thus train dramatically harder. After 18 months of drugs use and an intensified fitness regime, Chambers was able to reduce his best time over 100 metres from 9.97 to 9.87 seconds. As a result of his positive test, Chambers was stripped of all the medals he won during the period when he ran on drugs. He reimbursed over £100,000 in prize money he won during the period of his drugs use.
After his ban ended he returned to athletics in the 2006 season and won gold with the 4 x 100 relay team at the European Championships. After an unhappy spell during which he experimented with becoming a professional athlete in other sports, in 2008 he returned to track athletics and he won the silver medal in the World Indoor Games. He won a gold over 60 metres at the 2010 World Indoor Championships and silver in the European event in 201o. Chambers is fast; no so fast that he will win the Olympics if selected, but fast enough so that he has a realistic expectation of making the final.
I’ve written before previously – here and here - that I hoped WADA would win its case and Chambers woudl be selected. My reasoning was essentially this: that Chambers has admitted his guilt and apologised for it. It is clear from his memoirs that he is honest about the reasons he took drugs and he has insight into the selfishness and stupidity of that original decision. Where a person is contrite, I believe their punishment shoudl be less. And I find his case morally no worse, but if anything rather more sympathetic than the myriad British athletes, in many different sports, who have found ways to avoid drugs tests.
Chambers, in his memoirs, makes much of the hypocrisy of certain former athletes who have campaigned against him – he names in particular Lord Moynihan, the (other) 2nd-rate Conservative politican at the head of UK sport, whose record within British rowing, Chambers argues, is very different from the simple anti-drugs stance Moynihan takes when asked about Chambers. He gives other examples, some of which I have also used in my previous piece.
Reading the judgment, the following considerations struck me:
Although the BOA ban is officially, an immediate life-time ban, without exception (para 8.24), for all UK athletes caught taking drugs, in practice the rule is applied leniently in the extreme against athletes who say that they failed a drug test accidentally: 24 of the last 25 athletes who have sought to challenge the ban have been successful. (para 2.7)
The effect of appealing to the BOA is to generate relatively minor sanctions – Christine Ohurougu who failed to attend 3 drugs tests was punished with just a one year ban (para 2.8).
CAS’s position is that in order to get all national bodies to implement the anti-doping codes, it is better to have a single consistent sanction rather than a multitude of different rules, “the international anti-doping movement has recognized the crucial importance of aworldwide harmonized and consistent fight against doping in sport” (para 8.41). Under the present system, it followed, BOA had to lose.
Finally, my own view: I have already stated my opposition to the present ban. The one real relevation for me, on reading the judgment, was the generosity of the BOA to other UK athletes who have appealed. This does reinforce the sense I had already that Chambers was being treated differently – not because he was a drug cheat, but because he admitted that he did something wrong.
In the tabloid-generated ethical universe that is British sport, it is better to deny cheating and to give a shallow and unconvincing excuse than to face your fault directly. Chambers’ route is a different one. Personally, I would rather live in a moral universe that allowed for both fault and contrition.