Chambers case may have dire consequences

Dwain Chambers' positive test for the designer anabolic steroid, THG, puts him at the centre of the most serious drugs case in British athletics history. The European 100 metres champion admitted last night that traces of tetrahydrogestrinone had been found in his urine in August. He is awaiting a "B" test that is likely to confirm the finding, but he denies ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Dwain Chambers' positive test for the designer anabolic steroid, THG, puts him at the centre of the most serious drugs case in British athletics history. The European 100 metres champion admitted last night that traces of tetrahydrogestrinone had been found in his urine in August. He is awaiting a "B" test that is likely to confirm the finding, but he denies ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The repercussions of the emerging THG scandal for British athletics could be dire. Chambers himself faces a ban of at least two years, and a life ban, under British Olympic Association rules, from the Olympics. As one of Britain's brightest medal hopes for Athens next year, his loss will damage not only the nation's prospects but team morale, already low after a poor World Championships.

The British team left the Paris championships this summer with only four medals, two silver and two bronze. It was only the second time in nine world championships that Britain had failed to win a single gold. That tally could yet get lower, with confirmation yesterday that the men's 4x100m relay team - which included Chambers and won silver - will lose their medals if Chambers' positive test is ratified.

The World Championships drew low television audiences in this country, mainly because of a lack of British success. Anything that tarnishes the sport is likely to decrease further the public's appetite.

There could also be negative knock-on effects for athletes' funding and sponsorship, although David Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, played down that possibility.

Having spoken to both the BBC and Norwich Union, who are effectively his sport's major backers, he said: "Both of them are very comfortable with the way we are dealing with [the current situation]. Sponsors would be more unhappy with us if we paid lip service to this problem."

Whether any other British athletes become implicated in the THG scandal remains to be seen. UK Sport, which oversees drugs testing in Britain, confirmed last night that it will begin testing for THG within days. The test, only devised recently, has not been used in Britain before.

The most high-profile British athlete to have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in the past was Linford Christie. The 1992 Olympic 100m champion tested positive for nandrolone in 1999. He denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing substances and was cleared by UK Athletics, but his case was referred to arbitration and he was subsequently banned by the IAAF, the world governing body of athletics.

Christie's case is linked to Chambers' in the shape of the nutritionist Victor Conte. After CJ Hunter, the American shot putter, tested positive for anabolic steroids at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he was accompanied to his explanatory press conference by Conte, the man who owns the US laboratory where THG is believed to originate.

At the time, Conte said that Hunter had taken nutritional supplements supplied by him, and they were the same as Christie had used. Hunter's former wife, the multiple Olympic champion Marion Jones, as well as Jones' current partner, the sprinter Tim Montgomery, both use Conte's nutritional supplements, although there is no suggestion that either have used performance-enhancing drugs.

* American track and field chiefs have threatened first-time steroid offenders with lifetime bans as they unveiled draconian powers to combat doping in the sport. USA Track & Field, launching their new "Zero Tolerance" programme yesterday, vowed stiff penalties which could include a life ban and fines of up to £60,000. The body has also encouraged the use of private investigators as well as asking athletes and coaches to act as whistleblowers. Former cheats will also be encouraged to assist in the battle against doping.

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