David Millar could compete at the London Olympics after all, with the British Olympic Association's by-law, which imposes a lifetime ban on doping offenders, hanging by a thread.
The World Anti-Doping Agency said at the weekend that the by-law is "non-compliant" with the global Code. And so a picture has emerged of the BOA as the defenders of good old (British) fair play, engaged in a fight for the integrity of sport against - bizarrely - the wicked WADA, who seem determined to let the cheats back in.
Arguably, this is a very misleading picture. But there could be more behind it.
Colin Moynihan, the BOA chairman, has a mixed record in picking fights. But he has picked a good one this time. After all, most people's natural instinct will be to support the BOA.
And so Moynihan has found himself surfing such a tsunami of goodwill that it has washed away the controversy, not to mention embarrassment, of his recent battle with the London organising committee over a share of any profits from the 2012 Games.
It is WADA's job to enforce the Code, even unpopular clauses, such as the one that allows drugs cheats to compete at the Olympics if they have served a ban.
Quotes of the week
Moynihan was bruised and bloodied by that fight. But he can't lose this one.
Even if the BOA is forced to scrap the by-law, allowing Millar and Dwain Chambers to compete in London, he will remain perched on the moral high ground, buttressed by the perception that drug-free sport is the loser, not the BOA.
Here's the problem, though.
The principle at stake has nothing to do with whether or not you believe that doping cheats deserve to be barred from the Olympics, and everything to do with the existence, and validity, of a World Anti-Doping Code.
The Code will only work if its signatories - who include governments, sports federations and anti-doping bodies, including UK Anti-Doping - adhere to it.
The whole point of the Code, adopted in 2004, is that it "provides the framework for harmonised anti-doping policies, rules and regulations," and addresses "the problems that previously arose from disjointed and uncoordinated anti-doping efforts." Which is a polite way of saying that, prior to the adoption of the Code, the fight against doping packed as powerful a punch as an alcohol-free cocktail.
It is WADA's job to enforce the Code, even unpopular clauses, such as the one that allows drugs cheats to compete at the Olympics if they have served a ban. If the BOA are allowed to deviate, and write their own rules - even those that are notionally anti-doping - it creates a precedent for others.
Ultimately, that could mean that some countries decide to dish out lesser penalties, or come up with their own list of banned products; it will also encourage FIFA and the ICC in their efforts to exclude footballers and cricketers from the 'whereabouts' programme of out-of-competition testing.
When the Code is breached, it is WADA's job to uphold it. A good example is the Alberto Contador case, which is being considered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week.
Despite his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, the Spanish cycling federation cleared him. WADA (and cycling's world body, the UCI) have appealed that decision, because they fear that it breaches the Code.
If the Code is not universally adopted it will become unenforceable. Many leading figures in British sport, led by Moynihan and the BOA, seem to have adopted a siege mentality, but they miss the point.
While they protest that they are taking a stand against doping, one that will lead to a cleaner Olympics, the risk is that their "non-compliance" undermines the Code, and has the opposite effect.
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Sports Fan says...
Surely what matters here is that the WADA code serves the purpose for which it is intended - to provide a mechanism by which doping in sport is gradually eliminated. To suggest any national anti-doping body is undermining the aim of drug-free sport globally by refusing to implement an international code which is poorly thought through is absurd. I'd rather see no global consensus on a rule that fails both the practical and moral tests, rather than global consensus on a confused rule in the hope that one day WADA may see sense and pursue measures which actually deliver the mandate they have set themselves. Looked at this way it's a slap in the face to suggest CM and the BOA 'miss the point', I'm sure both are more than able to adequately consider both sides of the debate.
Posted 10:41 23rd November 2011
Stuart Storr says...
Thank you for this - it's the first time I've seen the argument so well stated. It's easy to follow the following line of thought (and one which the popular press, and allegedely, many athletes subscribe to): 1. Doping is wrong. 2. The offenders know it's wrong. 3. The Olymic Ideal is all about fair play. 4. Proven dopers should be banned for life from the Olympics. And taken on it's own, it seems a compelling argument. But as you point out, it's more complicated. This is about enforcing a code that is subscribed to by countries and sports organisations. They can't just invent their own version. Otherwise we're back to the Wild West. This isn't about whether we want Millar or Chambers to be back in the Olympics. It's about working together under the banner of WADA to fight drug-taking in sport in a consistent and controlled way. And in my view, this is the best way of stopping doping in sport in the long term. And like all forms of "government", if you want change, then do it from within. Don't go around acting like Charles Bronson, taking the law into your own hands. And there are other strands to the debate which add further complexity . Is all doping the same and should it all be punished in a similar manner? Does the use of steroids and EPO, for example, have the same long term effects on the body, or does one change the body's make-up so that a user retains an advantage over a prolonged period? Do we ban one for life, and one for 2 years? I'm not sure I've heard Mr Moynihan give all the answers - he's just off down the "hang 'em high" route. Let's have some joined-up thinking on this. Doping is wrong. The objective is to eliminate doping from sport, not to just dole out the maximum punishment to individuals. And in the present circumstances, supporting WADA is in my view the best chance we have of that.
Posted 23:33 22nd November 2011
Andrew Triggs hodge says...
Richard, i think you have missed the point. WADA's is entrusted to define when an athlete has breached the doping rules in sport, defining a new crime. This can be put against crimes like robbery that we have lived with since society began. It is for the countries responsible for the athlete to define the punishment. However WADA does stipulate a minimum punishment (and why they are appealing spain's decision with Contador). If a country, sporting event, or organisations decides to extend that ban, this has no negative bearing on WADA, as the WADA code has been upheld. However i do believe that there is a bigger issue. When someone dopes to gain advantage in sport, their win robs the rightful athlete of a way of life, sponsorship, life time security, with the effects reaching beyond that athlete, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is equal to all varieties of fraud, for which people see prison sentences. I think the question isn't how long they should be banned for, but how long they go to prison for. Again, this can only be defined by the countries courts, not WADA. For example; If the UK government decided it was a crime to dope in sport, and apply a 5 year prison sentence to the most severe cases, would they be in breach of the WADA code? I realise this is a stretch, but the principle applies Andy
Posted 18:42 22nd November 2011
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