Drugs in sport: Appeals panel 'will deter legal action'

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The Independent Online
BRITISH sports bodies, in an initiative which mirrors that taken by the International Olympic Committee this week, are planning the creation of a national arbitration panel which will hear appeals from competitors contesting drug suspensions, writes Mike Rowbottom.

The new body, which is being assembled under the supervision of the Sports Council, is likely to be in operation within a year. It will be modelled on those currently working with success in Australia, Canada and Norway.

The aim, as with the Supreme Council of International Sport Arbitration that is being set up by the IOC, is to deter competitors from pursuing their case in the law courts by allowing appeals to a widely recognised panel of experts, rather than to an arbitration committee assembled at considerable haste and expense.

Legal costs to individual sporting federations will be reduced, and huge claims, such as the one of dollars 27.5m ( pounds 19m) awarded by an Ohio court to Butch Reynolds against the International Amateur Athletic Federation, will become less of a threat. Should competitors pursue their right to court action, the findings of a resident panel well versed in the scientific and technical aspects of their case could be expected to weigh against them.

'If the integrity of the panel is established at the right level, it would be a fruitless exercise for competitors to go anywhere else with their case,' Michele Verroken, the head of the Sports Council's doping control unit, said.

Verroken was speaking at yesterday's launch of the British Athletic Federation's campaign - the catchphrase of which is 'Don't Be A Dope' - which seeks to extend education on drug issues beyond the international athletes who currently receive information. Details of banned substances, and handy checklists, will be circulated to 2,000 athletics clubs throughout the UK, to more than 200 tracks and stadiums.

The initiative will lessen the credibility of athletes claiming that they have taken banned substances unwittingly, a defence which has been rehearsed frequently at home and abroad.

'Not knowing is no defence,' Dave Bedford, the BAF secretary, said. 'But the federation feels obliged to ensure that information is obtainable by the maximum number of people.'