Looking ahead to 2009 and the road to London 2012, Niels de Vos, the chief executive of UK Athletics, spoke with unbridled optimism yesterday about "the building blocks" being in place for British athletics to construct a brighter future. Unfortunately for the track and field at domestic level, the launch of this bright new era will coincide with the re-emergence of the figure who cast a shadow over much of 2008.
Dwain Chambers is back in training and is aiming to make his presence felt in the indoor season, which starts in earnest with the Aviva International at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow on 31 January and climaxes with the European championships in Turin from 6 to 8 March. His autobiography is due to be published at the end of February and, whether or not he fulfils his promise to "name names" in it, the raking up of the Balco drugs scandal and the Londoner's involvement in it is sure to cast a cloud over the opening months of the new year and the new era for British athletics.
It was the same this year, of course. De Vos attempted to bar Chambers from the national indoor championships in Sheffield and from selection for the British team for the World Indoor Championships in Valencia in March, on the grounds that the sprinter had not been drug-tested between November 2006, when he made an abortive attempt to switch to American football, and January this year.
Unfortunately for the chief executive of UK Athletics, Chambers' name had not been removed from the drug-testing list of the world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations; he was therefore free to race. Amid a blaze of negative publicity for the sport, the Belgrave Harrier took the national 60 metres title and world indoor silver behind the Nigerian Olusoji Fasuba.
In the summer, Chambers stormed to victory at the Olympic trials in Birmingham, clocking 10.00sec for 100m, the fastest time by a European at the distance this year. He then lost his "trial" in the High Court, the British Olympic Association winning the battle to uphold its by-law precluding athletes who have served doping suspensions from Olympic selection.
Having watched events in Beijing from afar, though, the 30-year-old is getting himself ready for an indoor season in which he could be back in a British vest as soon as the Kelvin Hall match next month.
The incoming head coach of UK Athletics, Charles Van Commenee – who is due to take up the post in February – has already made it clear that Chambers would be "welcomed back," having "served his sentence" – a two-year ban that ended in 2006.
Partly prompted by the confusion over Chambers' eligibility at the start of the last indoor season, De Vos commissioned an anti-doping review, chaired by Tanni Grey-Thompson. A report is due to be published next month but De Vos said that none of the recommendations would affect Chambers' participation in the indoor season. "You can't make recommendations retrospectively," De Vos said. "I don't want to get into the detail of the review but we have to operate in a legal framework and you can't retrospectively penalise people. It's about learning from where we were.
"The reason I didn't think Dwain should have competed in the World Indoor Championships was he had not been on a testing programme for 12 months. He has now been on one, so if he qualifies he's perfectly welcome in the team. Beyond that, what we would do in similar circumstances was one of the key things I did ask Tanni to look at, so the sport does not get itself in a situation where it has these areas of a lack of clarity that cause great confusion. I didn't think we had the right policies and procedures in place. When we publish the recommendations in January, you'll see what they are."
Asked whether he had a sense of foreboding that Chambers and his autobiography would overshadow the indoor season, De Vos said: "No. Those things are outside of my control. What individuals want to say... I hope they respect their sport."Reuse content