Athletics: Ban could mean end of the road for Chambers

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The Independent Online

Dwain Chambers, Britain's European 100 metres champion, was last night considering his options after receiving a two-year ban following his positive test for the so-called "designer" steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG). The 25-year-old Londoner has 60 days in which to register an appeal to the Court of Arbitration in Sport at Lausanne against the decision reached by the UK Athletics disciplinary panel which met in London last Thursday.

The delayed judgement released yesterday - which activates a ban starting from 7 November last year and will also see Chambers barred from the Olympics for life under a British Olympic Association ruling - represents a highly significant marker in the worldwide battle against doping abuse, given that the British sprinter was the first of five athletes shown to have taken the recently-detected drug to face a hearing.

As had been predicted, the case appeared to turn on the principle that underpins worldwide anti-doping initiatives, namely the strict liability rule, which insists that athletes are responsible for what is in their body regardless of how it got there and whether they had knowledge of it.

The three-man panel chaired by Charles Flint QC ruled that, although THG was not on the banned list when Chambers tested for it on 1 August, the substance was prohibited because it was both chemically and pharmacologically related to an identified anabolic steroid, gestrinone, from which it was 'directly derived.' The ruling will have been marked with great interest in the United States, where the other four athletes to have tested positive for THG are based, and where court proceedings are in train indicting Chambers' coach, Remi Korchemny, and three others, including the owner of the BALCO laboratory in San Francisco, Victor Conte, of charges of supplying and misbranding illegal drugs.

"This was a test case for THG with huge implications for every other case in the world," said Dave Moorcroft, the UK Athletics chief executive. "I'm relieved that a verdict has been reached. And although I'm deeply disappointed for Dwain, I believe this is the right verdict.

"It's an extremely sad day for Dwain, and an extremely painful one for the sport. But it is absolutely a price worth paying. Unlike some other sports in other parts of the world, we are vigilant in order to protect those who don't cheat. If we weren't prepared to live with the pain, we wouldn't be as vigilant as we are. And there have been times in the sport when that was not the case." Moorcroft confirmed that the price of vigilance in this case was close to all of the £300,000 set aside annually by UKA for such eventualities. "I don't expect much change from that," he said. "The costs were huge." Much of the expense as far as UKA was concerned related to the decision to call two expert US witnesses - Larry Bowers, a senior member of the US Anti-Doping Agency, and Professor Don Catlin, whose Los Angeles laboratory developed a test for the previously unknown substance THG after receiving a sample anonymously from a coach last June.

"The presence of the US experts was extremely critical to our case," Moorcroft confirmed, adding that this was a complex case given that Chambers was tested out of competition in Germany before his sample was analysed by an International Association of Athletics Federations laboratory in Los Angeles. "We needed to get the best witnesses to present the case so that the truth could be discovered," he added.

A statement released on Chambers' behalf by his solicitor, Graham Shear, pointed out that the athlete's challenge to the allegations "focused on the fact that although there was scientific evidence to show that THG was chemically related to banned substances, this in itself could not be sufficient to constitute a doping offence." It was asserted that it would be unjust for an athlete to be banned when there was insufficient evidence to show that THG had any performance-enhancing effect upon the human body.

"Dwain's challenge has been unsuccessful. The Tribunal have held that evidence of a chemical relationship between a listed and non-listed substance alone is sufficient to constitute a doping offence. However, the Tribunal also noted that there was no clinical evidence of anabolic or performance-enhancing effect of THG in the human body." If the case has involved UKA in expense it has also been costly for Chambers, who hired Michael Beloff QC, a lawyer with extensive experience of deliberating for CAS, to put his case. Believing that the panel would announce a verdict before the weekend, Chambers had made contingency plans in the event of a guilty verdict by pencilling in a trip to Tampa, Florida on Monday to pursue a possible career in American Football at an NFL training camp.

Had the verdict gone his way, there is every likelihood that he would have redoubled his efforts to train towards this summer's Olympic Games in Athens.

But Chambers' Olympic ambitions now appear tenuous in the extreme, and his future involvement in the sport where he has served as Britain's team captain at major championships as well as earning a share in Linford Christie's European 100m record of 9.87sec is now open to doubt.

The exuberant young man who burst into prominence with a world junior 100m record of 10.06sec in 1997 and went on to earn a world bronze medal two years later has always appeared an athlete whose ambitions had never quite matched his expectations, for all that he captured the European title in Munich two years ago. Now those lofty ambitions appear unlikely ever to be realised.

Although Chambers is not the highest profile British athlete to fall foul of a positive doping test - the former Olympic and world champion Linford Christie received a two-year ban following an adverse nandrolone finding in 1999 - he is the most senior figure to have been halted during his competitive career, as Christie had officially retired at the time of his positive test.

Under IAAF rules, UKA could have imposed a ban greater than the two-year one which became statutory in 1997, but Moorcroft said that, despite discussion at board level, it had been decided to stick with IAAF guidelines. He indicated, however, that UKA representatives would argue for a return to four-year bans at the IAAF Council in Helsinki next year. He added that, despite the problems encountered with four-year bans in Spain and Germany, where athletes challenged the ruling in civil courts, he was confident that such a punishment would stand up in English law.

Moorcroft accepted that there could be no guarantee that other substances were not being manipulated in the way they were to create THG. "You would be naïve to say that this is the only case where a manipulation of molecules has taken place," he said.

The former world 5000m record holder added that it was his strong belief that behind athletes who tested positive there were people who were just as guilty, and that he had discussed the situation with the IAAF's general secretary Istvan Gyulai. "The difficulty is that, unlike with the athlete, who has strict liability for what is in his system, it is extremely difficult to prove anything in relation to those who might also be implicated," Moorcroft stated.


Born: 5 April 1978 in London.

Career highlights:

1998: Wins 4x100 metres relay gold at Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

1999: Wins European Cup in Paris in 10.21.

2001: Wins Goodwill Games final in Brisbane in 10.11.

2002: Wins European Cup in France in 10.04.

Pulls up with cramp in the final at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England. Wins 100 metres in 9.96, a championship best, and 4x100 metres gold at the European Championships in Munich.

Records a personal best of 9.87 in finishing second to the American Tim Montgomery at the Grand Prix Final in Paris. Montgomery sets world record of 9.78sec.

2003: Fourth over 100 metres at the Paris World Championships in August. Notified in October that he failed an out-of-competition drugs test carried out in Germany in August. The A sample had been positive for tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), an anabolic agent. Chambers denies knowingly taking a banned substance.

7 November: B sample confirms the A sample result. The sprinter is suspended by the IAAF with immediate effect.

2004: 19 February: Appears before a UK Athletics disciplinary hearing in London.

24 February: Banned for two years by UK Athletics.