London Eye: Can play, won't pay: paradoxical case of a banned Paralympian
Friday 25 November 2011
Unlike Dwain Chambers, David Millar and other former doping offenders from these shores, Simon Gibbs is not depending on the fall of the British Olympic Association's celebrated by-law to become eligible to represent the host nation in the London 2012 arena. Gibbs is a wheelchair basketball player and ParalympicsGB, the equivalent of the BOA on the Paralympics side of domestic sport, does not have a life ban in place on the selection of athletes who have incurred drug bans of six months or longer.
Gibbs has been serving a two-year suspension since testing positive for the stimulant mephedrone in March 2010. His ban ends in March 2012, which leaves him clear to compete in the home Paralympics six months later – theoretically, at any rate.
"Yes, there is no Paralympic by-law," Charlie Bethel, chief executive of British Wheelchair Basketball, said, "but it would not be automatic that Simon would come back into the squad. In terms of our own policy, there would be no issue. The organisation is of the opinion that Simon will have received his penalty and served his time.
"He would be eligible but it would put us in a very difficult situation. We are a minority sport funded by UK Sport and the Lottery, and UK Sport have a lifetime ban on the funding of athletes who have served two-year bans for anti-doping violations. How can we then allow Simon on court when our court time is paid for by UK Sport?
"It's all well and good in an individual sport like athletics, but in our sport, without the interaction of your team-mates and the coaches, it becomes very difficult if not impossible. The challenge is that we need to manage our relationship with UK Sport."
A spokesman for UK Sport said: "UK Sport's position remains that athletes found guilty of a serious doping violation receive a lifetime ban from our funding. Our policy is applied equally to all athletes, whether they are in an individual or team sport.
"If British Wheelchair Basketball choose to select an athlete on to their elite programme who has served a two-year World Anti-Doping Code ban, they must find a way to include them that demonstrates to us that the athlete would not benefit from UK Sport funding and funded benefits, as other national governing bodies have managed to do."
Which leaves the ball in the court of British Wheelchair Basketball. "It is a difficult situation," Bethel added. "We would like to have Simon back in the team. He struggles to afford to train now. It's interesting to consider his case when in wealthier sports penalties seem to be much lower for similar substances with the same Wada [World Anti-Doping Agency] rating."
Of course, the Manchester City central defender Kolo Touré served a six-month ban from March to September this year after testing positive for "a specified substance" he claimed had been contained in his wife's slimming pills.
In ruling on Gibbs' appeal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport arbitrator Michael Beloff pointed out that the World Anti-Doping Code allowed reduced penalties for certain drugs – "specified substances" which can sometimes be used inadvertently – only when athletes prove how they ingested it. Beloff said that mephedrone had been "hitherto unrecorded" as a doping product but, as a stimulant with properties similar to amphetamines, was prohibited in sport.
A claim by Gibbs that his drinks had been spiked on a night out was rejected but Beloff said he should not be stigmatised as "a doper". Mephedrone, commonly known as "meow meow" was a legal recreational drug at the time of Gibbs' positive test but has since been criminalised in Britain.
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