Leading article: Too soft on drugs in sport


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The Independent Online

From all the back and forth, the challenges and the appeals, one could be forgiven for thinking that the issue of drugs in sport is a complex one. It is not. It is very simple. An athlete who takes a prohibited substance is cheating and should not be allowed to compete again.

The British Olympic Association is to be applauded, then, for its efforts to ensure that drug-takers are banned for life from the UK team. Never mind that the BOA's appeal against the World Anti-Doping Agency code was always going to fail, given last year's decision on a less far-reaching case in the US. The fact is that Wada'stwo-year ban is too light a penalty to deter those whose unscrupulousness matches their ambition, and the BOA was right to challenge it.

Now that sport's court of arbitration has ruled, however, Team GB's pickers have no alternative. Drug cheats – notably the sprinter Dwain Chambers and the cyclist David Millar – will automatically be selected for London 2012 if their performances qualify as expected.

All the BOA can do is lobby for the Wada code to be toughened up in the four-yearly review later this year. For practical reasons, efforts are likely to focus on doubling the ban from two years to four. But the British should stick to their guns over the longer term, and keep pushing for drug-takers to be banned from the Olympics for life.

In purely moral terms, the case is clear. The assertion that all deserve a chance of rehabilitation is, in sport, a self-indulgent one: a ban on drug-takers is less about punishment than about protecting clean athletes, and sport as a whole, from the taint of corruption. Neither is the claim that a banned substance may be taken unknowingly – in a cold remedy, say – any more compelling an argument. Monitoring everything that passes your lips is part of being an athlete, and less equivocal penalties might perhaps focus minds more effectively.

There is also a practical case for simplification. A system stripped of the complications of uncertain ban lengths and questionable culpability is clearer, fairer and easier to enforce. It is also right. Drugs are banned. Taking drugs is cheating. There are no excuses.