A matter of days after the majority of British Swimmers will have booked their places in the Olympics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will convene in London to decide on the legality of the British Olympic Association’s bye law on eligibility for those guilty of drugs offences. The rule under scrutiny prevents an athlete who has been found guilty of a serious doping offence from being selected for the Olympics. Despite having large scale support from within the British sporting community, the rule has been deemed incompatible with the WADA code, leading to this legal fight.
There are those who argue that athletes who have served their punishment via a two year ban should be able to move on with their lives and careers and not face further punishment. This argument is valid but flawed in two principal ways in this context. Firstly, there is nothing to prevent athletes from resuming their sport or indeed from achieving success. A swimmer could, for example, return from a doping ban and compete around the world on the world cup circuit, at regional championships and world championships so has not lost a livelihood.
Secondly there are parallels that can be drawn with the judicial system of this country. Although as a society we accept the concept of rehabilitation after serving a punishment, depending on the offence there may yet be limits placed on an individual’s activities. A convicted fraudster may for example be barred from being a company director. That does not prevent someone from getting on with their life; why could doping not be treated the same way?
Sport cannot exist in a moral vacuum. Much as John Terry’s behaviour led to him being stripped of the England football captaincy, or Danny Care was axed from England’s 6 nations rugby squad following a drink-drive incident, where selection is involved factors other than form or capability are frequently taken into account. And it is important to note that the byelaw relates to selection, not qualification, which implies an element of discretion.
Furthermore, representing one’s country at the Olympic Games is a privilege not a right and it is a privilege that is available to precious few. Why should those who have opted to cheat prevent clean athletes from experiencing the ultimate sporting event?
British Swimming is fortunate that it doesn’t have a Dwain Chambers or a David Millar, or indeed a Jessica Hardy, and so has not yet had to face this issue in earnest when considering the make up of its Olympic squad. Losing the deterrent of an Olympic ban may yet force the sport to grasp the nettle in future.
Overturning the rule, and removing the assoicated deterrent, would be a retrograde step in the fight for drug free sport. Hopefully CAS will see sense in March.