Monthly Archives: April 2012

Dwain Chambers: why BOA lost

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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.

The decision

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.

What would Annie Besant say?

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My boys have been playing recently with the Marvel Trading Card game (inc, TM), in which cards are won or lost by comparing their attack and defence strenths. Magneto for example is “attack 60”, “defence 60”, a weaker attack than the Hulk, but a pretty similar defence. This begs the obvious question: what attack and defence strengths would you give to an East London private housing block?

Residents of Lexington House in Bow Quarter, which was once part of the Bryant and May site where the 1888 matchgirls strike took place, woke up this morning to the news that a High Velocity Missile System is to be housed on the estate’s water tower.

This is useful, indeed necessary military technology in the event that London is bombed during the Olympic Games by military aircraft belonging to a hostile state.

But seeing as it is 65 years since London was last actually bombed; what real threat is this designed to protect us from?

Various local residents have been quoted to the effect that they feel scared by this development; I can’t help but agree with them. The idea of large quantities of military explosive being housed in the proximity of my home would distrurb me, too. In fact it’s no to feel that this is precisely the point. Neo-conservative politics seems to be premised on the insight that a public that is nervous of security concerns will tolerate a greater militarisation of their lives. Even when the only credible security concern is on your own “side”. It’s what the Italians, in a previous generation, used to call the strategy of tension.

It is another way in which the Olympics are making London a worse place.

Jeremy Hunt’s Olympics

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It is a late summer evening, and the Leader settles into the back seat of the Olympic BMW which the Games Organisers have kindly provided. He or she is Kabila perhaps, or Mugabe, or Myanmar’s Thein Sein. Beside the Leader sits a senior official, whose task is to protect the Leader from any unwelcome publicity. “We will be meeting the British in half an hour”. “The Queen?”, the Leader asks with a smile. “No, the Minister in charge of the Olympics, a Mr” (the official searches through his papers, “Hunt”. “I have read about him”, the Leader responds sourly, before asking, “now … should I let myself be photographed shaking his hand?”

Most British politicians in the past decade have been willing assistants to the Murdoch empire; it takes a special character to be caught so flagrantly in the act.

2012 wasn’t supposed to be like this. For the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP it was meant rather to be a glittering step on the way to high political office. At the start of March, the Telegraph was still tipping Hunt to be a future Leader of the Conservatives, and the minister would not have blushed when the paper described him as enjoying the “best job in government”.

Hunt’s main priority, in that interview, was to stake a personal claim to credit for the Olympic Games, in which his department of course has barely any role whatsoever, save for oversight and scrutiny of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), that fantastic quango, which has been able to turn £2 billion of public money (its original budget) into £11 billion of public money (its present spend) and counting.

Hunt’s Department, far from restraining Coe, Moynihan and their chums, has done everything in its power to shield LOCOG from criticism – playing the same “old pals” game, that he was previously playing with Murdoch’s BSkyB bid.

This is how Hunt described his Department’s role in preparing the Games, “We have put a huge amount of thinking into what we call, in the organisation of the Games, ‘the last mile’. It’s basically the distance between whatever public transport you arrive on and actual entry to an Olympic event, and we want to make sure that it’s as clearly sign-posted and as pleasant an experience as possible.”

And this Hunt speaking about his own role in the Games: “I am obsessed not by what people say about me now, but what people will say about what I’ve done in office when they look in 10 years’ time. The curse of modern politics is that too few politicians get to leave a real legacy. If I could deliver a fantastic Games for the country, along with people like Seb Coe, who are doing such a fantastic job; if I could deliver super-fast broadband to most of the country by the end of this Parliament; if I’m able to help bring in a new era of local TV companies; and if we can weather the most incredible financial storm since the Second World War, then I’ll be able to look back on this period and feel incredibly proud of what I’ve done.”

Local TV companies: whatever Hunt does, this is not going to happen. (The plan will break on the centralising tendencies of the British economy, which for the past 30 years have been dragging resources and talent, repeatedly, to London).

End of recession: it will happen. All recessions in history have ended. Parts of the country (the richest 1%) have never even been in recession. If you look at the balance sheets of the FTSE 100, the companies are cash rich. The only distinctive thing about this recession is that the very rich have used it to take more money out of the majority’s pockets than any previous recession since 1914.

Faster broadband will happen (Moore’s law) whatever Hunt does or doesn’t do.

The only interest in all this guff is Hunt’s reflection on the Olympics which he modestly describes himself as leading “along with people like Seb Coe”.

I have many criticism of Coe, some of which I’ve written about previously, others of which I’ll post about over future weeks. But Coe is working on the Olympics full-time, which is likely to mean 60-70 hours a week. As for Hunt … I’ll be surprised if the Olympics have taken up as much as an eighth of his workload. He is not the Games’ organiser nor their planner. He is supposed to be the gatekeeper, a role he has singularly failed to play. He is not the organ-grinder, he is barely even the monkey.

Meanwhile, David Cameron (whose constitutional role includes upholding the Ministerial code, and ordering investigations when it is breached) has proposed that a decision as to whether or not to investigate Jeremy Hunt should be taken only after he has been before Leveson at the end of May. But Leveson is making an inquiry into the future of the media, and has no role at all to consider breaches of the ministerial code. Hunt is a barely a sideshow to the inquiry (this is one reason why Murdoch was asked so little about him).

So Cameron’s initial decision is that Hunt – arguably one of the worst of all the wretched ministers this country has suffered in the last thirty years – may be investigated, but not before the summer at the earliest, by when (Cameron no doubt hopes) press coverage will have turned elsewhere.

Assuming Hunt survives, we will return to the spectacle of the Olympics: the Murderers meeting Rupert’s Apprentice. If I was Kabila or Mugabe I would shake Hunt’s hand and smile in admiration.

The Security Games; Brent’s problem with leafleters

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Campaigners in Brent are incensed by news that the local authority is planning to introduce a bye-law which would penalise those handing out free leaflets in the Borough. The report to the council which justified the measure stated that it was “being sought now to assist with the effective control of literature distributors anticipated during the Olympic period.”

Under the proposals, an organisation who wanted to hand out free literature would have to apply for a licence costing £175. There would be a minimum notice requirement of two weeks. A re-submission fee would cost a further £75. Each individual person who handed out leaflets would also have to pay a fee depending on how which days of the week they proposed to do this: £75 per person if during office hours on weekdays, rising to £165 per person on Sundays or Bank Holidays. The new restrictions would not materials promoting charities, religious organisations or “for political purposes”.

At a meeting of the Brent Trades Council on Wednesday, which voted to oppose the proposals, delegates gave examples of the sorts of activities which would be subject to this charge. BNP canvassers would not be punished by the rules; anti-fascist protesters would have to show that their purposes were “political”, otherwise they might be required to pay the fee.

Campaigners against library closures (a key group in Brent in the last year) would probably have to pay the charge, as presumably would trade unionists, and as (certainly) would trade unionists trying to leaflet quickly (i.e. without waiting for 2 weeks’ notice) in support of a dispute that arose suddenly.

Typical of the present period is Brent’s insistence that the new scheme, which will last indefinitely, has to be rushed through in order to be in place by the Olympics. Brent is an Olympic borough. It renegotiated its street cleaning contract last year, reducing the frequency of collections, and no doubt the council is wary of critics dubbing Brent the dirtiest Olympic borough.

But all over London there are other petty, authoritarian measures of this sort which are being introduced simply because they are convenient for various local authorities (councillors, the police, businesses etc). The Olympics is being used as an excuse to generalise the worst of London.

Simon Moore: notes towards a defence

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On 3 May, Simon Moore will face a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court to determine whether (according to the Inside Left blog, which has published a statement from him) he should be pre-emptively banned from

  1. Entering or remaining within 100 yards of any existing or proposed Olympic competition or practice venue or route or participant’s residence withinEnglandandWales.
  2. Entering or remaining within 100 yards of any road being used on that day for the passage of the Olympic torch, or on which any Olympic competition or practice venue is taking place – e.g. the marathon – within England and Wales;
  3. Not to trespass on, or without the permission of the owner to interfere with, any building or land;
  4. Taking part in any activity that disrupts the intended or anticipated official activities of the Olympic games or Diamond Jubilee celebrations;
  5.  Obstructing the movement or passage of any Olympic participant between their residence, practice venue or place of work and venues being used for Olympic competition or cultural purposes and vice versa

The ostensible justification for these measures is that Moore has been successfully prosecuted for obstructing police officers at the Occupy Leyton Marsh site, and received a custodial term of 4 days. Having been prosecutes once, he is now being portrayed as a serial protester who must be prohibited from taking part in any further actions.

ASBOs have long been criticised because they give a barely fettered power to individual police officers (and because they are heard in the Magistrates Courts, the police do almost always get the orders the seek) to creatively invent new criminal offences, meaning that people are then prosecuted for “offences” which Parliament never designated criminal. 

Breaches of ASBOs are prosecuted and result in jail terms. The ordinary practice of the Magistrates Court, when faced with the breach of an ASBO is to order a custodial sentence, which in Moore’s case (because it would be a repeat conviction) would be likely to be lengthy.

In this way, by doing mundane acts, which on no rational basis could actually be characterised as anti-social behaviour (eg standing 98 yards away from a road that in two months time will be part of the marathon route) Moore potentially faces severe penalties.

Even the Coalition government accepts that ASBOs are an unhealthy development of our law and should be removed. (Although the government has taken no practical steps though to act on this promise).

My own approach would be as follows:

Agree nothing in advance and if need be appeal. If you can get the case away from the Magistrates Courts and into the High Court you will find that the atmosphere changes, there is a different approach altogether.

The courts have repeatedly said that an order can only be justified if it is completely comprehensible and no person could unwittingly breach it.

But consider the terms

  1. Entering or remaining within 100 yards of any existing or proposed Olympic competition or practice venue or route or participant’s residence withinEnglandandWales.

Has Moore been given maps showing where every “existing or proposed” competition, venue, route and residence is situated? If not, how is he expected to know whether he is unwittingly breaching that order or not?

Clauses 2 and 5 duplicates the “route” provision in clause 1 and are unnecessary.

Clause 3 bears no rational relationship to what he is accused of doing. Moore is not a serial occupier, he does trespass on flats or houses. He has protested once at an Olympic site. Clause 3, as currently drafted, would potentially make it a criminal offence for him to enter a shop without the owners’ permission.

You just have to fight every dot and comma of the proposed order.

The branded Games

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Three campaigns, the London Mining Network, Bhopal Medical Appeal and UK Tar Sands Network have been working together to produce a website Greenwash Gold exposing some of the worst Olympic sponsors: BP (responsible, via the mining of the Canadian tar sands, for aboutas many carbon emissions as any other company in the world), Rio Tinto and Dow. It’s a nice site, with some good short films (including the above).

But what strikes me about the full list of Olympic sponsors (set out at page 107 of this), is that they are not only polluters.

There are also producers of junkfood (Cadbury’s, Trebor, Holiday Inn), union busters (BA, UPS, Coca-Cola), faddists for nuclear power (EDF), vivisectors (GlaxoSmithKline), a sweatshop manufacturer (Adidas), as well as companies that have no economic function other than to cannibalise the welfare state (Atos, G4S). What a diverse list of rogues they are.

(Inside Left skewers them all brilliantly).

That Olympic legacy: class and ethnic cleansing

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Housing minister Grant Shapps has been seeking to defend his government, and the Coalition, from responsibility for Newham Council’s attempts to rehouse residents, no longer eligible for housing benefit, over 100 miles oustide the borough, in Stoke.

To most people this looks like blatant social engineering. Poor people are having to leave the areas in which they live, because the price of private-sector rents has gone up so sharply that the council can no longer afford to house them. Not so, says Shapps, who blames Newham. According to the BBC, “Grant Shapps said there were nearly 1,000 rental homes in Newham which fell within the cap and suggested Newham council were “playing politics” ahead of the elections.”

While the primary definition of the people who are being moved is that they are poor, it doesn’t take too much genius to grasp that the demographics of those being moved will be in many ways different from those who stay behind. In London, the working poor are predominantly white. That no longer remains true as you look lower down the ladder: the poorer Londoners get, the more likely they are to be black, Muslim, etc.

A bit of context is needed: until the 1980s, housing benefit was a relatively modest part of the total welfare bill. The cost of housing benefit, to local authorities, and to the state generally, has since risen enormously, essentially because in the mid-1980s, the previous Conservative government brought an end to 60 years of legislation limiting private sector recents.

 The “cap” referred to by Shapps is the government’s attempt to limit housing benefit by saying that no family may receive housing benefit in excess of certain limits (including an overall limit of £500 per week per family, for all benefits). Now, when these caps were introduced, they were applauded by the tabloids, because it just does seem obscene that anyone should be able to receive more in benefits than the average wage. The problem is London rents, which for a 2-bedroom house very often are in excess of £1500 per month.

I have described the process elsewhere:

“The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is cutting housing benefit, for example by placing (from April 2011 for new tenants, and for existing tenants from January 2012) an absolute cap on the amount of housing benefit that can be paid depending on the size of the property: £250 per week for a one-bedroom property, £290 per week for a two-bedroom property and so on. This is intended to be accompanied by a new measure that no family may receive a total of more than £500 per week in welfare benefits. The measures are supposed to reduce the growing housing benefit budget, but the costs of housing benefit have risen in circumstances where landlords are able to charge what they like. They will do nothing to reduce landlords’ power to charge ludicrously inflated rents to the state, but will leave many thousands of tenants with a shortfall. In due course, they will be in arrears with their rent. Inevitably, a large number will be evicted. Civil servants have estimated that the £500 cap alone will result in 20,000 families being made homeless.”

ie Government policy, faced with a spike in private-sector rents, is not to reduce rents, but to compel people to leave their properties and (inevitably) to move to cheaper (i.e. poorer) areas.

Shapps is lying, in short, when he disclaims responsibility for Newham: they are doing exactly what government policy asks of them.

Now, probing a little deeper, what really interests me is the part played in all this by the Olympics. One Newham resident interviewed on Radio 5 explained the matter as follows: many private-sector landlords have been pushing up their rents in 2012 in particular. Their motives are that they see the Olympics as a potential windfall. There will be many people moving to be near the Olympics for just a few weeks, and ladlords hope to rent out their flats at hotel-type prices – i.e. not £40 per night, but £100 or £200 per night. Clearly, no housing benefit system could “compete” with rents of this level.

At one point, the Olympic organisers were promising the residents of Newham, Stratford, etc better jobs and housing. By spring 2012, their primary promise is that at least the area will be left a giant shopping mall, the Westfield. But once you look at the units, presently in that shopping centre, you see a very similar problem. A significant proportion are going to companies like Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Tiffany, etc. As a boutique, you really don’t have to sell too many pairs of shoes at £10,000 each  before you’ve paid off a year’s rent.

The flats in which the friends of LOCOG will be staying are homes being taken out of the reach of working people. What the story shows, most clearly, is that you can’t create a playground for the rich in a bubble of its own.