Athletics: One more cup of coffee for the road

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The Independent Online

It is the athletics event you won't find on the programme. And although this event has peculiar characteristics, this much can be said: it is a marathon, not a sprint. We are talking of the disciplinary hearing.

Waiting for news of Dwain Chambers's fate in the classically inspired surrounds of the Chancery Court Hotel bar, a large, light-filled room lined with marble pillars and ionian capitals, I experienced that familiar feeling of déjà vu all over again.

The sensation occurred as I found myself enquiring about lunch arrangements soon after the sprinter had taken up his appointment with the UK Athletics panel investigating his positive test for tetrahydrogestrinone. Which, as any fool knows, is the recently discovered "designer" steroid known as TCP. Sorry, THG.

Not my lunch, you understand, but that of the assembled legal eagles and boffins who had gathered at the Lincoln's Inn Fields offices of Farrers & Co to deliberate on the European 100 metres champion's future status. It was to be half an hour only, apparently. Sandwiches, presumably. Prawn? Cheese and pickle? We could only speculate.

Over the years a series of hearings and appeals involving other athletes have blended and blurred in the memory. But common characteristics stand out.

As with sprints, doping hearings usually involve a false start. This may occur weeks or even months before the two parties convene as theories of likely defences circulate. With Diane Modahl in 1994 there was much discussion of the possibility that her increased testosterone levels were down to illness. Ultimately this proved to be both mistaken and immaterial. She was exonerated because her sample had been allowed to fester on some laboratory windowsill rather than being stuck in a fridge.

Once the secret hearing gets underway, and members of the Fourth Estate secrete themselves in a nearby bar or hotel lobby - or allow themselves to be lured on to the windy pavement amid a frozen quorum of television cameramen and photographers - the exercise takes on a ritualistic aspect. And Thursday's proceedings didn't disappoint.

Rumours circulated later in the morning that Chambers had been caught on camera at a first-floor window shaking his fist in triumph. Someone else said he had made a double thumbs-up gesture. But scrutiny of the Georgian façade yielded nothing but the curious faces of office employees, scrutinising the scrutineers.

Then, round about 2.30pm, news came through that both sides had concluded their evidence. Scramble. Out on to the street again, where nothing continued to happen.

It would not be true to say our gathering served no purpose. Over the course of the next couple of hours we managed to obstruct numerous pedestrians going about their business.

At one point, a group of us sought warmth and shelter in a nearby sandwich bar with a convenient view, keeping the idea of commercial transaction alive with desultory purchases of (very expensive) coffee until the staff, who had begun work at 6.30am, regretfully announced that they were closing up.

The day drew towards a close. And then, at around 3.39pm, it happened. Two men came out bearing numerous boxes of files, loaded them into the back of a van and then drove off.

As the last shock waves of excitement ebbed away, one of our number received a call. There was to be no decision until the middle of the following week.

This information was greeted with a numbed groan from everyone present, particularly those requiring moving pictures. But as a mass brandishing of mobile phones was set in motion, a dissenting voice exclaimed: "It's still alive for the Sundays!" For someone, at least, the proceedings had ended satisfactorily.