Mike Rowbottom: Not restraint of trade – just no invite to world party

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bryn Vaile remembers very clearly the emergence of the British Olympic Association's byelaw. It was initiated by competitors, not administrators, and he was one of them.

As a member of the formative BOA Athletes Commission, Vaile – a gold medallist in the 1988 Olympic Star sailing class – was among those responsible for getting the byelaw on the statute books on 25 March 1992. Along with Olympic swimming gold medallist Adrian Moorhouse, he argued its case successfully to the BOA executive committee – and he believes passionately that the byelaw should remain.

Moorhouse, Vaile and fellow members of the Athletes Commission felt that action needed to be taken to prevent doping offenders returning to represent their country in the Olympics, and had to overcome some opposition from within the BOA before they had their way.

"We looked into the legal position of restraint of trade," Vaile recalled yesterday. "But the way we saw it, this was not preventing people carrying on their careers – they could still compete in grand prix meetings or world championships."

Vaile, however, would like to see conditions become even more difficult for doping cheats. "I still believe that if you take performance-enhancing drugs, you should be banned for life," he said. "There should be no compromise to it, because that is compromising our futures. Every time a drugs cheat comes back to competition, it doesn't just tarnish the sport, and the people watching. It tarnishes the next generation, and it belittles every other clean athlete."

There is no doubt in Vaile's mind that Dwain Chambers does not deserve to return to the Olympic arena. It seems that view is held by the majority of current athletes.

The present incarnation of the BOA Athletes Commission – the British Athletes Commission – has surveyed athletes after each of the last three Olympics asking them, among other things, whether they support the byelaw. According to the BAC chief executive, Pete Gardener, the response in favour has always been 90 per cent or more.

The BOA also believes its position is validated by the International Olympic Committee's ruling which came into being at the start of this month, whereby any competitor who serves a significant doping ban will be ineligible for the Olympics that follows it. Had this rule been in place five years ago, Chambers would be doubly ineligible.

Earlier this season, UK Athletics attempted to prevent Chambers from contesting the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, claiming that he had returned to the sport without having been on their UK Sport dope-testing register for the required period of a year.

But when it emerged that Chambers had done nothing to remove himself from the register and that he was still on the International Association of Athletics Federation's register and was offering regular updates on his whereabouts, their case effectively collapsed.

Understandable as the frustration was within UK Athletics following Chambers' unwise comments about the benefits of doping – he opined that a doped athlete would have to be having "a bad day" not to beat a clean one – its stance was misguided and unfair. Chambers had served his time and he was eligible to return. Like it or not, end of story.

The question of preventing Chambers from competing at the Olympics involves different considerations, however. As Lord Coe has pointed out, when Chambers took the decision to take drugs he knew what the position was. He was putting his Olympic career into jeopardy.

The BOA feels it has taken a lead in attempting to clean up the sport and has now been effectively joined by the IOC itself. The BOA position is that it is not preventing Chambers from running, it is simply not inviting him to its own party.

Chambers was justified in claiming he had served his punishment and should be allowed back into the sport. He's back. He's the world indoor 60m silver medallist. And although much noise has been made about him not getting invites to the main meetings, he has still found places to run.

But in challenging the BOA byelaw he is attempting to shape the sport to his own particular needs, and that is a very different matter. The legal case may not be watertight, but the moral case is.