DRUGS IN SPORT; Johnson targets return in Sydney

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The Independent Online
BEN JOHNSON'S hopes of competing at another Olympic Games rose yesterday when a Canadian judge ruled that he should be reinstated following his life ban for doping. Athletics Canada, the country's ruling body, will now support the 38-year-old sprinter in an unprecedented appeal to the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

Graham Mew, the Canadian adjudicator, ruled that Johnson - infamously stripped of his 1988 Olympic title for steroid abuse - should be allowed to return because there had been procedural errors in the case which saw him banned from the sport for good in 1993.

Mew said Athletics Canada had "inadvertently failed" to comply with IAAF rules in that it had misinformed Johnson over the type of hearing he was entitled to following the IAAF doping commission's decision to ban him. He added that the Canadian body had "not adequately informed" Johnson over his procedural options.

The ruling, however, does not mean Johnson will be competing on an organised level in Canada or abroad just yet. It also does not vindicate the athlete over the drug test in Montreal. "I'm very happy but I don't have time to jump around and celebrate," Johnson said. "I still can't compete and we still have some things to do."

Johnson returned to the sport after serving a two-year ban in the wake of the 1988 Olympics and reached the 100 metres semi-finals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. But a year later he tested positive for steroids once again, thus incurring an automatic life ban. Johnson's case will have to proceed without a hitch if his Olympic ambition of running at next year's Olympics in Sydney is to be achieved.

Giorgio Reineri, spokesman for the IAAF, said the case was unlikely to be considered by the IAAF Council until November. He said he could not anticipate the IAAF's view of a case which contained a number of "juridical problems". Even if Johnson's request were granted there would have to be a period of at least six months in which he could undergo tests before any return to competition.

Reineri said that Athletics Canada, which has done much in the last 10 years to clamp down on doping abuse, was legally bound by the adjudicator's judgment.

Johnson's winning time of 9.79sec in Seoul 11 years ago has never been bettered, but if his campaign to return is successful he is unlikely to bother many of today's leading sprinters.

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