Dwain Chambers' last-ditch attempt to force his way into the British team for next month's Beijing Olympics came to an abrupt halt yesterday. The 30-year-old sprinter lost his High Court action seeking an injunction against a life ban from the Games.
Chambers completed a two-year drugs ban in 2006 but the British Olympic Association (BOA) has a by-law that renders doping offenders permanently ineligible for the Games. He faces a bleak future within the sport, but he insisted after his failed court action that it is "too early to tell" whether he would retire.
As Lord Justice Mackay embarked upon his summing up of a case that, in his own words, had been brought "at the 11th hour", the athlete – clad in the same dark suit and red tie as he had worn at the previous day's hearing – stared impassively at the glass of water on the desk in front of him.
One hour and 10 minutes later, it became clear that the beaker was half empty rather than half full. "In my judgement, it would take a much better case than the claimant has presented to persuade me to overturn the status quo at this stage and compel his selection for the Games," the judge concluded.
Chambers' legal team had challenged the by-law on the ground that it was unfair (no other country except Denmark has this rule), that it was contrary to competition law and an unreasonable restraint of trade.
But the athlete may questionhis legal advice, given that the issue of competition law was ruled to be too complex for consideration outside of Chancery Courts or a commercial court. And the belated nature of the case Chambers first proposed bringing in February, when he returned to athletics following an unsuccessful trial at Castleford Tigers rugby league club, also told crucially against him with the British team deadline falling today.
Lord Justice Mackay pointed out that other athletes had proceeded this season without expecting Chambers to be in the running for an Olympic place, adding that the BOA had been called to account just as it was completing final preparations for its Olympic team: "The delay was such that in consideration I would have denied relief on this ground alone." Ironically, the man who had just won the British Olympic trials had proved too slow off the mark.
After pointing out that the Olympics offered no reward other than medals, and that earnings produced by Olympic success were not certain, Lord Justice Mackay added: "The prospects of arguing that this is a right-to-work case are not good."
The need for Chambers to prove his case had been increased by the fact that, although both sides had agreed to contest the case more fully in March, Chambers's counsel admitted that he would not be likely to pursue the matter if he lost yesterday, or if he won. Shortly before Lord Justice Mackay brought his monologue to a close, the sprinter's counsel mouthed advice: "We've lost." Chambers reacted by raising his eyebrows and spreading his arms wide, turning half around in his seat to the friends and family sitting behind him in Court 76.
There ensued the usual bunfight on the steps of the High Court as Chambers emerged dazed on the steps, obedient to the calls from the 30 or so photographers setting their lenses aflutter.
Outside the court, the BOA's chairman, Lord Moynihan, said: "It's a matter of regret that Dwain Chambers, an athlete of such undoubted talent, should by his own actions have put himself out of the running to shine on the Olympic stage in Beijing.
"The BOA will continue to send a powerful message that nobody found guilty of serious drug-cheating offences should have the honour of wearing GB vests at the Olympic Games."
The sprinter who finished third in the trials, Craig Pickering, now moves up to one of the two automatic qualifying places and will go to Beijing.