Chambers' shame shows need to bring advisors to book

Designer steroid fiasco has made the authorities determined to look beyond the athlete at those who may be encouraging doping

Dwain Chambers' statement this week, in which he denied knowingly taking the so-called "designer steroid", tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), placed responsibility on his coach, Remi Korchemny, for "instructing" him to use the services of the nutritionist Victor Conte, who is under investigation by a federal grand jury.

Given the traumatic events of the past couple of days, when Chambers's positive test for THG has come to light, the sprinter's comments before this summer's World Championships have a retrospective dramatic irony. "Remy is a hard taskmaster," Chambers said. "He runs you into the ground to get the results he wants. But whatever Remi tells me, I believe."

That Chambers is now questioning that belief is academic. The operating rule of strict liability means that - save for exceptional circumstances - athletes are responsible for what is in their samples, however it got there and no matter whether they have been assured it is legal.

But his situation points up the wider dangers that athletes might run in trusting those who handle their affairs, and it is clear that the sport at large is seeking to widen its operation to sanction those who may encourage or assist athletes to cheat.

Istvan Gyulai, the general-secretary of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has said this week that producing and selling designer steroids constitutes a crime.

His stance was echoed by David Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, who believes that more needs to be done to deal with doping offences root-and-branch.

"Something the sport hasn't been good at in the past is looking beyond the athlete," Moorcroft said. "We need to look at the people who act on their behalf, whether they are doctors, coaches or managers. These people who are implicated should be brought to task. There may be ways to do that through withdrawing accreditation or licensing."

For such action to be taken, however, guilt has first to be established. With an athlete, that task is relatively simple. But establishing clear links with those who provided them with the substance, or even encouraged them to take it, is a different matter.

While the list of athletes who have failed doping tests is an extremely long one, the list of athletes who have subsequently put up their hand and admitted their misdeed is extremely short. A decade ago, the British shot putter Neal Brunning became one of the very few athletes simply to accept that they had taken an illegal substance.

If acceptance of responsibility is rare among athletes, it is even more so among coaches. It took legal action on behalf of those damaged by the doping regime effected in East German sport to enforce sanction on that country's coaches, doctors and administrators.

As for the most infamous sprint coach in the history of the athletics, Charlie Francis, his connection with the sport was only severed when he had to testify under oath at the Dubin Hearings in Canada which were established in the wake of Ben Johnson, his athlete, being stripped of the 1988 Olympic 100 metres gold medal.

It remains to be seen whether the grand jury hearing beginning in San Francisco will judge it necessary to effect similar sanctions on those who surround and support athletes.

Grand jury hearings are few in number, and if the sport is to press forward with cleaning itself up, it will require further interventions of the kind in the case of THG, where a test was only devised thanks to a tip-off and free sample from an anonymous coach. It is entirely possible that action may have been prompted not by an abiding love of the sport, but professional jealousy. Whatever the reason, one cannot question its effectiveness.

Moorcroft specifically called this week for anyone who might have information on doping abuses to come forward to UK Athletics, a stance which mirrors that of the IAAF.

And an IAAF spokesperson pointed out yesterday that no re-drafting of the rules would be needed in order to allow any athlete found guilty of a doping offence to plea-bargain in exchange for information about those who had either encouraged or supplied them.

The phrase "extraordinary circumstances" is deliberately vague, and should Chambers eventually lose his case, it is something he might do well to ponder on.