Cycling: Scots lift ban on repentant Millar

Rider 'delighted' as he gets go-ahead for the Commonwealth Games next year, writes Nick Harris
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It was a Wednesday evening in late June 2004 that three policemen approached David Millar in a restaurant near his home in Biarritz and sent the Scot's cycling career into a tailspin. The officers from the Paris drug squad, armed, then entered his flat, found evidence that he had been doping with EPO, and put him in the cells.

The raid was part of a long-standing investigation into Millar's cycling team, Cofidis. Millar served a two-year ban from his sport, spending a year of it drunk as his life spiralled out of control. But he moved back to England, vowed to stay clean, returned to riding, with much success these past three years, and became an anti-drugs campaigner.

Yesterday the 32-year-old, born in Malta and raised in Scotland and Hong Kong, was rewarded for his public anti-drug stance when a lifetime ban on representing Scotland at international level was lifted. A lifetime ban from the Olympics remains in place, automatically imposed by the British Olympic Association for doping offences. But Commonwealth Games Scotland has lifted its own ban.

Millar will now be able to ride for Scotland at next year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi, if he qualifies, which appears certain. Cynics will suggest CGS wants a gold medal from Millar in the time trial, and a shot at a podium place in the road race, but its chief executive, Jon Doig, insists the motivation is promoting drug-free sport. "David has become an active campaigner and educator about doping in sport and has gone to great lengths to rehabilitate himself and share his experiences with others in an attempt to promote the anti-doping message," Doig said.

Millar said: "I am absolutely delighted with the decision. It would be an honour to race for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and to give something back to the country that has given me so much. I am proud to be a Scot and feel that I have been supported incredibly through the bad times as well as the good by Scotland.

"I made mistakes as a younger athlete in a dirty sport, and I will have to live with those mistakes for the rest of my life, but I have changed and I know I bring something beneficial to not only cycling, but also sport as a whole.

"I have been so pro-active in my fight against doping because I believe I can make a difference and I also believe that the mistakes I made as an athlete were fully preventable. If the example I now give and education I provide can prevent a younger version of me from making the same mistakes I made, then I could not ask for more."

Millar has already represented Britain at major events since his ban, and completed the Tour de France, but he had believed any major Games was beyond hope. His anti-drug work, for UK Sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency and others, as well as a commitment to host an anti-doping seminar for young Scottish athletes for CGS, has changed that.

Reaction to the lifting of CGS ban has been mixed, edging towards sceptical if message boards on the BBC's cycling page yesterday are any reflection.

"He cheated, he denied it, then eventually he admitted it when the evidence was staring him in the face," wrote one poster. "The worst thing about David Millar however was the arrogance ... There was never a suggestion of humility. Now he's trying to be an ambassador and to serve as an example, and I genuinely do applaud that, but I don't agree with forgive and forget. Quite frankly if he hadn't been dumb enough to leave a vial of EPO on his sideboard he'd probably still be using it."

Another wrote: "Wouldn't it be more effective if he has to tell young kids who ask about the Commonwealth Games and Olympics that he can't go because of his drugs ban – then they might see that there is a visible downside to being [or having been] a drugs cheat?"

A third, more sympathetic comment, said: "Can we not get this in perspective? A man has made a mistake, and has admitted it, and moved on to try to educate others."

When Millar was caught in 2004, he said: "Nobody put any pressure on me but I felt it nevertheless, I took drugs because my job was to finish in a good place in the results."

He has also said: "I doped for money and glory in order to guarantee the continuation of my status." That quote comes from publicity material for his autobiography, Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar. It is due out next year.

Alasdair Fotheringham: Former offender deserves his second chance, as does the sport

Comment

Five years ago David Millar was just another black sheep in a sport, cycling, which was the byword for doping in general.

Selecting an athlete with that sort of past for the Commonwealth Games was always going to be controversial. But it is also courageous recognition that people and sports can change for the better.

After years of connivance, precisely because road racing has been close to extinction as a result of drugs scandals, the sport has been forced to tackle the issue head-on. Scandals still occur with depressing regularity, but there has been some patchy progress.

Cycling was, for example, a guinea pig for the biological passport – the latest weapon in the anti-doping war, just recently adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency for all sports. This year only one Tour de France rider tested positive. In 2008 seven did.

Millar himself is the classic poacher turned gamekeeper. Since 2006 he has been a leading crusader in the anti-doping war. He was nominated by UK Sport to become the first cyclist and ex-doper to be admitted to the WADA's athletes' council, which advises the agency on combating banned drugs.

Millar is also a realist – and is adamant that cycling's war against doping is a long way from being won. Seeing his Commonwealth Games ticket as a green light for dopers is way too simplistic. Rather, this is the age-old debate over whether previous offenders deserve a second chance.

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