Chambers grasps last chance to have Olympic ban lifted

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The Independent Online

Dwain Chambers will learn on Wednesday whether his bid to earn an Olympic place has been successful – always assuming he comes up with the required performance in the British Olympic trials which start in Birmingham tomorrow.

Chambers, who is challenging the British Olympic Association's byelaw which prevents serious doping offenders from competing at the Games, was told by a High Court judge yesterday that his application for an injunction would be heard in the middle of next week, just four days before the final Beijing selection deadline of 20 July. Lawyers for the 30-year-old sprinter served papers on the BOA last week seeking to have the matter determined at a High Court hearing starting tomorrow. But the BOA responded by arranging yesterday's Directions Hearing in which it successfully argued for the case to be delayed.

The main case will now be heard next March, but Chambers – who completed a two-year ban in 2005 after testing positive for the banned steroid THG – has been offered a last chance to apply for a temporary lifting of the ban so he can take up any possible Olympic place, something he can achieve by finishing either first or second in Saturday's 100m final at Alexander Stadium. Chambers, who was present at the brief hearing without taking any direct part, commented afterwards: "I am confident about what I am capable of doing and the rest is up to the decision of the court – and I will abide by that decision." He admitted he had found the court appearance a strain but said it would not affect his performance at the athletics trials. "I will be fine," he said.

Lord Moynihan, chairman of the BOA , said outside court that he welcomed the chance to put the BOA's case before the courts. Jonathan Crystal, the specialist sports barrister who is representing Chambers, will try to convince Mr Justice Mackay that the BOA regulation is unfair and an unreasonable restraint on his client's livelihood. Referring to the athletics meeting, he told the judge yesterday: "There is a trial this weekend which may become a material factor." Mr Justice Mackay replied: "He will pass that with flying colours. If he doesn't, the case becomes academic."

Crystal said next Wednesday he would be trying to persuade the court to "disapply the diseligibility provisions" under the BOA bylaw. "It is a high burden but we are confident we shall succeed in that task," he said.

Chambers's legal team had originally requested for their case to be heard tomorrow as a Part 8 claim, which would have meant a swift resolution given that it has no provision for any cross-examining of witnesses. The BOA felt such a rapid process was inappropriate to adjudicate over a byelaw that has stood for 16 years, and applied for both a delay and an alteration in the method employed. Both parties are now agreed that when the issue is joined in March, it will be based on a Part 7 claim, which involves a far fuller process of enquiry.

Should Chambers be successful, the BOA will certainly appeal against the decision, although the likelihood is that such an action could be resolved one way or the other before the 20 July deadline. Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Steve Redgrave were among those who recently backed the retention of the byelaw in a petition signed by nearly 100 leading domestic sporting figures. Earlier this week, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, the 19-year-old double world junior champion, added his support to the campaigners. Chambers is currently the fastest Briton this season, having run an Olympic qualifying time of 10.05sec, with Tyrone Edgar and Marlon Devonish next in the domestic rankings, and should that order be replicated at the trials then other leading sprinters such as Aikines-Aryeetey and Craig Pickering would be out of the running for individual places. "I think it's a bit unfair on people like me and Craig because if they had to pick the team today the third spot would be between us," Aikines-Aryeetey said.

* Ashia Hansen, the former world indoor triple jump record holder, has announced that she is to retire.

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