Athletics moves to ostracise Chambers

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The Independent Online

Dwain Chambers may have forced his way back into the British team, but the 29-year-old sprinter faces a bleak future as a professional in the light of yesterday's confirmation by the man who coordinates athletics meetings across Europe that athletes convicted of doping are no longer welcome to participate.

Chambers, who is making a controversial second return to the sport having served a two-year doping ban, learned on the same day that his name was reluctantly included in the team for next month's World Indoor Championships that he would not be invited to Saturday's Norwich Union Grand Prix in Birmingham, the centrepiece to the domestic indoor season.

And according to Rajne Soderberg, whose Euromeetings Group runs 51 events across Europe including lucrative IAAF Golden League and Grand Prix meetings, the 46 promoters whom he represents are standing by the agreement they made in October to exclude athletes who had served doping bans.

"We have agreed not to invite these athletes again," Soderberg said. "These people cause the sport so much damage, it cannot be forgiven.

"We do not feel it is harsh. There is a lot of media attention and we would prefer to focus on the people that are not cheating." Meanwhile UK Athletics, whose selectors maintained they were "unanimous" in their desire not to pick Chambers following his victory in Sunday's 60m trials but felt the rules left them no option, has received the backing of Norwich Union for its intention to review its rules with particular regard to returning doping offenders.

"We endorse the actions of the UK Athletics board to take a tougher stance on the use of drugs in sport," the sponsors said. "We understand the difficult position the UK Athletics selection panel faced this week and support the decisions made." UKA announced yesterday that Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain's most successful Paralympian, will lead their review of the anti-doping policy.

"I can assure everyone we will consider every available option open to us including the possibility of extended lifetime bans, the right to control entry into UKA events and how future selection policies are framed," she said.

"In the international arena we will lobby relentlessly to increase the penalties for drug cheats.

"I believe the time is right for UKA to play a leading role in driving change through athletics to ensure that drug offenders cannot walk back into our sport unchallenged and untested."

If the latter reference was to Chambers, there was a measure of injustice in it. The awkward fact is that Chambers never actually removed himself from the UK Athletics anti-doping register while he attempted to pursue a career in American Football that collapsed with the disintegration of the NFL Europe league in which he represented Hamburg Sea Hawks.

But the domestic body's attempt to block Chambers from returning was a misjudgement as the rules were on his side – they assumed he had retired when he had not.

Double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes is leading the calls for Chambers, who tested positive for the banned steroid THG, to leave athletics for good. "He is being treated in the way he deserves to be treated," she said. "He needs to start looking at himself and realise why people don't believe he should be in the sport."

So the promoters don't want Chambers, and the selectors are looking into ways of not having to pick him any more. Having returned to athletics without undue controversy in 2006 following his ban, he is now being pilloried for, effectively, telling the truth. It may not have been prudent of him to say he knew he was cheating, or – as he did last May – that he believed doped athletes would have to be having a bad day not to beat clean ones. But unless he believed that then, why else would he have tried to cheat in the first place?

Unpalatable as it may be to UK Athletics, Chambers is within his rights to run. Calling for him to be booed – as Athletics Weekly egregiously suggested last week – and singling him out for opprobrium – as the selectors did this week – are actions that appear petty and spiteful. The message should be this: Don't execrate – legislate.