Van Commenee plays risky game

New head coach of UK Athletics risks employers' wrath with Chambers call
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The Independent Online

British athletics head coach Charles van Commenee could be at odds with his new employers before he has even started in the job after declaring Dwain Chambers would be welcomed back to the national team.

Chambers served a two-year ban after testing positive for the steroid THG in 2003 and in July he failed to overturn a lifetime suspension from the Olympic Games. The controversial sprinter is eligible to represent Great Britain at other events and he competed at the World Indoor Championships in March despite strong opposition from UK Athletics.

Van Commenee said yesterday the door would be open for Chambers to return to the British team ahead of next summer's World Championships in Berlin. "Dwain has served his sentence, he is more than welcome back in the team," said Van Commenee, who starts his new job as head coach with UKA on 1 January. "He's a very good athlete. Everybody who serves their sentence is welcome."

Chambers failed in his bid to overturn the British Olympic Association bylaw that prevents him from competing at the sport's showpiece event.

Van Commenee said: "I'm fully aware of the restrictions given by the BOA and we'll live by that as well. If an athlete wants to challenge that, that's okay, and we'll live by the result."

Van Commenee was presented yesterday as the new British head coach and vowed to do whatever it takes to mastermind a successful British medal assault at the 2012 London Olympics. But quite where Chambers fits into that policy is open to debate given he cannot compete in London and the UKA's stated opposition to his presence in national teams.

When Chambers qualified for the World Indoor Championships, UKA made it clear they were selecting him under duress. A statement read: "The committee was unanimous in its desire not to select Dwain. Unfortunately, the committee felt that the selection criteria pertaining to the winner of the trials, coupled with the manner of Dwain's performance, left them no room to take any other decision."

Van Commenee was top of UKA's list to replace Dave Collins after the role of performance director was scrapped in favour of a hands-on coaching position. The Dutchman guided Denise Lewis to heptathlon gold in Sydney in 2000 and Kelly Sotherton to bronze in Athens before taking over as performance director at the Netherlands Olympic Association. His reputation for straight-talking was cemented when he famously described Sotherton as a "wimp" for failing to win Olympic silver in 2004.

Van Commenee is not concerned about putting more noses out of joint as he attempts to construct a winning environment. "It is about getting the best out of athletes and there is no time to waste," he said. "I have the image here of having been the most miserable person that you can walk into, of having a knife in my pocket all the time. I would like to think I'm reasonable and fair. I'm always clear and some people perceive that as rude. I will look at the coach and athlete and see what is needed. Sometimes it's toughness, sometimes it's encouragement, sometimes it's being positive. The important thing is progress and it is my job to make that continue, turn finalists into medallists. Let's count medals in the end and whatever attitude is required for that, that is what it takes."

Van Commenee could have been in charge four years ago but withdrew his application to become performance director because UKA were "dragging their heels" and instead he took up the offer in the Netherlands. But the attraction of leading the British team into a home Olympics was a major factor in attracting Van Commenee back to the UK on a four-year contract.

"To say there is a lot of talent is maybe over the top. We have to cherish the talent we have and have a clear pathway to success and make no mistakes. Then we can have a very good result."


The medals won by Van Commenee's Netherlands in Beijing – none was in track and field.