James Lawton: For all his sins, Chambers must be allowed to run
Monday 09 March 2009
If you had flown into Turin from another planet yesterday you could have been excused the belief that the great crime of Dwain Chambers was not systematically to make a nonsense of the idea of clean sport, but rather, to write a book about systematically making a nonsense of clean sport.
The latter offence is the one that, extraordinarily when you think about it, may prevent him making an Indian summer of his benighted career at the age of 30.
He served his time, of course, as a drug cheat – that expired in 2005. Now his newly published book is the hanging offence, one for which his BBC interrogator Jonathan Edwards several times invited an apology after Chambers had confirmed the fact that he is head and shoulders above any British or European rivals. Twenty-four hours after smashing the European indoor 60 metres record by 0.03sec in Saturday's semi-final, Chambers won gold in the final while still on the bridle, and talked optimistically of moving on to fresh and significant challenges.
The world is heavily against such a prospect with the IAAF – and European promoters – apparently set on banning him for bringing the sport into disrepute with his book and also failing hitherto to come up with approximately £90,000, the slice of prize-money accumulated while he was fuelled by the drug THG that he has yet to pay back.
Why, given the scale of Chambers' past chicanery, does the prospect of such censure and punishment create such an unshakably unpleasant odour?
It is because athletics cannot emerge from such a decision without increasing the perception of many who used to love the sport that its main preoccupation is not with a relentless war against cheating but the shrouding of its worst effects on public relations. Chambers has done his mea culpas and, no doubt helped by an acute awareness of his pariah status among so many athletics officials, has sworn himself hoarse about the folly of taking performance-enhancing drugs. But such contrition has not been enough because it has been accompanied by a book which is not filled with anodyne doubletalk but goes to the heart of an enduring problem.
Most unforgivably of all, he says that his own rogue's progress was hindered only by his own blunders.
It is a hammer blow against the idea that such as Chambers and Marion Jones, superwoman of the Sydney Olympics, belong to a small minority with the nerve to have cheating at the heart of all their efforts.
UK Athletics' new chief coach, the Dutchman Charles van Commenee, has at least been consistent in his willingness to face the facts.
They include the point that while, rightly, Chambers will never be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, he is free to compete at any other level, having served his sentence.
Van Commenee said, when Chambers made his claim for a place in the Turin meet, "I will treat Dwain as other athletes of that calibre. I know there are restrictions funding-wise, competition-wise, but for me he is a human being. He has served his sentence and he will be part of my squad."
This is surely the proper, grown-up response. The duty of athletics is to live with the ugliest of its past and the most threatening of its present. Chambers, for all his sins, is doing this – the people who seek to banish him are not.
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