James Lawton: Selective firmness made Chambers a human pollutant

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The Independent Online

Someone somewhere in the upper echelons of British athletics, and in this year of all years, should get round to a degree of honesty in the matter of Dwain Chambers.

If you forgive the expression, they should come clean, even if it is only in the form of a grown-up admission of deep-seated prejudice against a man who, whatever he does now, is always likely to cause a degree of embarrassment to the athletics establishment.

As of now, Chambers has been given the status of something close to a human pollutant. Qualified as Britain's leading sprinter in the forthcoming World Athletic Championships in South Korea, demonstrably still the fastest man in the land six years after being banned for two years as one of the leading casualties of the Balco scandal, Chambers is declared persona non grata by UK Athletics before tomorrow night's Diamond League meet at Crystal Palace

A 15-page submission by Chambers has been tossed aside. His barrister agent, Siza Agha, says: "UKA's position against Dwain leaves no room for redemption. Is it the message we want to send young people?"

At 32, Chambers scarcely fits into the category of young person and no doubt the hard-line persuasion will applaud the tough posture of the British authorities. Others will once again sniff out something that might be described as, selective firmness, a certain malleable morality.

We went through some of this debate on the run-in to Beijing. Then, Chambers was told that he had as much chance of overthrowing the British Olympic Association's lifetime ban on convicted performance-enhancing drug users as he had of going into orbit the next time he heard the starter's gun.

Christine Ohuruogu, as Chambers complained resignedly, was an entirely different matter. She sailed through her appeal against a similar ban, which came after she had served 12 months' suspension for missing three out-of-competition drug tests.

Ohuruogu had so much more in her favour. She performed brilliantly while winning a world championship gold – and then repeated the achievement in Beijing.

Would someone of lesser ability, someone who, as it happened, had not also threatened to go off and run for someone else if her appeal failed, have received quite such tolerance? We don't have to guess too hard at the answer of Dwain Chambers.

He swore that he would make, drug-free, something of what was left of his career. But he also insisted that among his crimes had been the ultimate one of being caught. He alleged that members of the US Olympic team in Beijing were tainted – and he asserted his belief that in the race between crime and detection the criminals, with their masking agents, would soon again step ahead.

Better for his acceptance by officialdom in the last days of his renovated career would have been the role of martyr to his own mistakes.

Though the great Edwin Moses said Chambers' testimony had been helpful, working against the kind of complacency that carried the Olympics of 1988 to the Ben Johnson disaster, it was perhaps not the message deemed most helpful by the athletic authorities.

Back in Seoul, Arthur Gold, chairman of the BOA, had claimed that at least 50 per cent of all competitors had tampered with some form of illegal performance enhancement. He was mocked, almost to the moment Olympic president Jose Antonio Samaranch, stepped on to a podium and announced that sport was involved in a fight to the death.

The fight goes on, no doubt, and maybe part of Chambers' problem is that he is such a vivid, tortured reminder.