James Lawton: Raise a glass to Chambers' absence but it is a drop of rough justice
Saturday 19 July 2008
What a relief Dwain Chambers will not now contaminate the British track and field team in Beijing, how splendid that – in an admittedly perhaps less than thunderous judgment by Mr Justice Mackay – we have been freed from the ambivalence of seeing one of the most graphically candid cheats in the history of sport stepping up on to the Olympic podium on our behalf.
Roll on, indeed, the British games of innocent ambition – and yes, indeed, pass me a pink gin old boy and press up my blazer won't you, because isn't everything as well as it could possibly be in the best of all our possible worlds since the outrageous fellow refused to get on with the rest of his miserable life with a minimum fuss?
No, of course, Chambers is not a suitable case for sympathy. Of course he dragged his sport into the gutter. But, still, who really finds it easy to send him into the wilderness, the sole pariah of a sport which now has no other option than to survive behind whatever cover it can be find?
The gut-wrenching problem is that everybody knows that if a disaffected coach had not slipped an incriminating syringe into the mail and blown the Balco lab scandal wide open, Chambers would not be skulking away from the chance of stardom in China in a few weeks' time but at the epicentre of the attention.
He would have been a lion of Britain, not a jackal, and this is what sticks in the craw now as somebody like Michele Verroken, the former head of anti-doping and ethics for UK Athletics says: "I would urge other nations around the world to consider the same eligibility law because it is a very important way of protecting the integrity of the Olympics.
"There is more cheating that is surreptitious and deceptive, which is corrupting. So it is important we send the clear message that those who compete without the use of drugs get the privilege to compete in the Olympics."
Unfortunately, Ms Verroken's clarion call for the British way does not include any convincing explanation of why it is that Christine Ohuruogu also enjoys this privilege despite missing three straight drug tests?
Of course, there is a huge difference between her and the unpardonable Chambers. He used a drug that could not be identified in testing, and not only has Christine Ohuruogu not tested positive, she only made nonsense of the testing programme, as such a high-profile athlete, and the future world 400 metres champion, because she was subject to bouts of forgetfulness.
Maybe that was the case, however far the proposition stretches credibility in the age of institutionalised drug-taking; but then how comfortable are we with a judgment that, in effect, indulgently chuckles over Little Miss Scatterbrain but decides that another young Londoner is so evil, as opposed to opportunistic, that he belongs nowhere else but in some outer darkness.
The trouble with the British Olympic Association's automatic ban on those guilty of drug offences – which is supposed to include those who failed to present themselves for tests – is that it has been ruled to be arbitrary and unfair in 16 successful challenges, including the recent one by Ohuruogu.
In yesterday's celebrations the BOA must have been cautioned by some of the words of Judge Mackay. He declared: "Many people, both inside and out of sport, would see the [BOA] by-law as unlawful."
They do indeed, and it seems likely that having lost in their bid for an injunction, the Chambers camp will return to the issue with a wider case than the one that the judge rejected yesterday as too narrow in its emphasis on restraint of trade.
For Chambers the blow is that he cannot exploit his fame or his notoriety at the highest level in the work for which he was trained. He protests that no one should be beyond the power of redemption. When you think of the scale of his deceit, the old willingness to cheat his way to any amount of faked gold, the new declaration that he wants to win clean is unlikely to win more than a few hearts and even fewer minds.
He will not be missed in the big stadium in Beijing, but then nor will any sense that his shocking fall, and his grotesque campaign built on deception that he was told was so sophisticated it was beyond detection, has taught more than one lesson. Yesterday's judgment did nothing to deflect us from the bitter conclusion that the rejection of Dwain Chambers confirmed only one thing. It was that there is still only one indictable offence in big-time athletics. It is to be caught, as in the Chambers case, dead to rights.
Otherwise, life goes on. So, please, pass that glass of pink gin.
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