It was not your average school assembly. Well, not the kind that the small knot of press sitting at the back of the sports hall at Hillview School for Girls in Tonbridge yesterday morning could recall from the mists of time – "All things bright and beautiful," and all that. There, standing on the platform in front of 700 pupils from years 7, 8 and 9, was Dwain Chambers, talking about the past error of his ways and the importance of making the right choices in life. There, in fact, was the second fastest British runner of all-time (second to Linford Christie) giving the Hillside students a global exclusive.
Five days on from the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to outlaw Rule 45 of the Olympic Charter, a regulation that banned athletes on the comeback trail after serving drug suspensions from the next Olympic Games, the sporting world was still waiting to hear Chambers' views on the matter. Was the highest profile doping offender in British sport suddenly thinking of London 2012?
The answer was unequivocal. "The Olympics is the pinnacle for all athletes," Chambers told his audience. "For all British athletes, to be able pull on a British vest and compete in a home Olympics would be a great privilege. It's something I'd love to do if it was a possibility."
Projected on to the wall behind as Chambers spoke were images of him in action in a Great Britain vest and of the London 2012 logo and the five Olympic rings. Back in July 2008, when the Belgrave Harrier stood outside the Royal Courts of Justice, having failed to secure a temporary injunction against the British Olympic Association's lifetime ban on the selection of former "drugs cheats," the prospect of him competing under the Union Flag at the Olympics on his north London doorstep seemed remote.
Not any more. In the wake of the CAS decision – prompted by the United States' Olympic Committee's concern about a possible challenge from LaShawn Merritt, the Olympic 400m champion who tested positive in 2009 for anabolic steroids contained in the male enhancement product, EtenZe – the BOA's by-law is not looking as secure as it was when Chambers made his last-ditch bid for a place on the British team at the Beijing Olympics.
Indeed, it has emerged that the World Anti-Doping Agency have written to the BOA asking them to test the regulation. Asked whether he considered the request to be "significant," Chambers' manager, Siza Agha, said: "All developments are significant."
Agha, accompanying Chambers on his school visit to Kent and helping to present his talk, was doing his best to play a straight bat when the press got their chance to put their questions. Asked whether he would be willing for Chambers to provide the test case for the BOA, he replied: "We haven't been asked anything. There's not just Dwain affected by the decision. There are obviously other athletes. I think the way forward is just to await and assess things as and when they unfold."
Agha happens to be a barrister by profession. While he is prepared to wait to see what pressure might be brought to bear on the BOA by the various other interested bodies, and to see how other affected athletes might proceed, he could not desist from challenging the BOA's assertion that their by-law differed from the unenforceable IOC regulation because it had an appeals mechanism.
"The distinction that they're trying to draw with the appeal process in my opinion is just not valid," he maintained. "The BOA by-law has built within it the wording of restrictions on which people can appeal. Having read it, it would preclude Dwain and [the cyclist] David Millar from appealing, because they deliberately did what they did."
Agha also questioned the BOA's claim that 95 per cent of British athletes supported the bylaw as "strange". If the loud cheers of approval Chambers received after not just the one but two assembly presentations yesterday were anything to go by, the greater proportion of the Great British public would like him to have the same rights as reinstated drug offenders from other countries who have served their time – and to see him return to the Olympic arena in London next summer.
"Naturally, I would love to be there," reflected Chambers, who finished fourth in the Olympic 100m final in Sydney in 2000 but missed the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "I live in Enfield. I drive past the Olympic Stadium every day, so I'm constantly reminded that the Olympic Games are around the corner. It all boils down to the question of eligibility."
Ultimately, an appeal to CAS rather than to the High Court would seem the most likely option for Chambers and his manager. "We would like to go down the path of least resistance," Chambers said. "All I can do is just take advice from Siza and be patient. If we can do it without going to a courtroom, I'll be happy with that."
In the meantime, the 33-year-old is back in training following the death of his father. A dad of three himself, there was a parental tone to Chambers yesterday as he told the Hillview pupils of how he fell into temptation when he relocated his training base to California in 2002 and fell in with the drugs regime of Victor Conte.
"I didn't have the confidence to say no," he said. "When I looked in the mirror I saw a sad image. When I won it was an empty success because I knew what I was doing was wrong. What I'm saying to you is: you've got these choices. You can say no. The decision I made ruined my career."
Chambers has been quietly giving his salutary message to schoolchildren in north London, France and Belgium for some time now – working as a global ambassador for Madonna's Success For Kids charity. "Yes, Dwain's a bit of a controversial figure, but for that very reason he comes with a strong message about making the right choices," Steve Bovey, Hillview's headteacher, said. "We want our girls to make up their own minds."
The pupils of Windsor Boys School made their minds up about Chambers last year when they chose to use his legs as the model for a bronze statue of Jesus that now stands outside All Saints Church in Dedworth. "They wanted a sports-like figure," said the Reverend Louise Brown, the vicar of All Saints. "They wanted a Jesus to be active in the community, and not behind closed walls."
The Reverend Brown just happened to be within the four walls of the Hillview sports hall yesterday, listening to Chambers' message. "I'm very sympathetic to the whole of Dwain's story," she said. "The Christian message is one of making painful choices and helping people restore their lives.
"I think when you make wrong choices in life it follows you for a very long time. I would like to see Dwain be allowed to compete, because if you've got the courage to come back and face the world saying, 'I've failed but I'm going to get back', then I believe you deserve to be there."Reuse content