Athletics: Chambers receives two-year drug ban

Dwain Chambers, one of Britain's brightest hopes of a medal in the Olympic Games in Athens this summer, continues to protest his innocence after being found guilty of failing a drugs test and banned from the sport for two years.

The European 100 metres champion produced a positive result for the banned steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) in an out-of-competition test in Saarbrücken, Germany, last August. Under the strict liability rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations, the presence of a banned substance is enough for athletes to be found guilty whether or not they deliberately took it.

Chambers, whose suspension is back-dated to 7 November, will be banned from the Olympics for life if the verdict delivered by a UK Athletics disciplinary hearing stands. He has 60 days to appeal, which, according to his solicitor, Graham Shear, he is considering.

"Dwain continues to assert that he has never knowingly taken a performance-enhancing substance," Shear said. "The strict liability nature of the IAAF rules has meant that this was not a factor the tribunal were allowed to take into account in deciding whether or not a doping offence had been committed. But the tribunal noted that no evidence was produced, nor indeed was it even suggested by UK Athletics, that Dwain was knowingly or intentionally involved with THG.

"Dwain has been given the minimum ban available in the circumstances and he continues to assert his innocence. The decision of the tribunal is being studied in detail for the purpose of considering a possible appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport."

His coach, Remi Korchemny, the owner of Balco Laboratories, Victor Conte, Balco's vice-president Jim Valente and Greg Anderson are due to appear in court in San Francisco on Friday to face charges on 42 counts relating to distributing steroids, having pleaded their innocence at an earlier hearing.

The US justice department has been probing drug use in sport for the past 18 months with the San Francisco-based Balco at the centre of the scandal which, according to the indictment, involves "dozens of professional athletes".

Shear explained that the 25-year-old Chambers challenged the assertion by the IAAF and UK Athletics that THG, though not listed as a banned substance, was chemically or pharmacologically related to the prohibited steroid gestrinone and therefore could be classed as performance-enhancing.

"Dwain's challenge 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," Shear said. "It was asserted that it would be unjust for an athlete to be banned where 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."

UK Athletics's chief executive, David Moorcroft, said he was satisfied the tribunal had come to the right conclusion.

"This was a test case for THG so it was important that a verdict has been reached," he said. "It is deeply disappointing for Dwain but it is the right verdict and we can all move on."

Dick Pound, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, also welcomed the verdict, which he said sent a message to other athletes contemplating using prohibited substances. "This is a particularly important decision because a disciplinary committee has now confirmed that THG is, in fact, a banned substance related to a steroid named on the prohibited list," he said.

"THG is a steroid created specifically to enhance sports performance and allow competitors to cheat. A two-year sanction for its use is completely appropriate."

Moorcroft said the case had been painful for Chambers and the sport, but said it was a price worth paying. "One thing is for sure, if we didn't want to live with the pain then we wouldn't be as vigilant as we are - but that 'pain' is a consequence of being extremely vigilant."

He also said the financial burden of prosecuting such a case was heavy. "Every year we put aside £300,000 out of our budget to cover these eventualities. I can't expect much change out of the money we have put aside."

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