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Page last updated at 20:17 GMT, Wednesday, 27 April 2011 21:17 UK

BOA defiant on doping stance as Merritt fights 2012 ban

LaShawn Merritt
Reigning Olympic and World 400m champion Merritt is fighting his ban

By Matt Slater
BBC sports news reporter

British Olympic bosses will keep their lifetime ban for drugs cheats despite moves to relax sanctions elsewhere.

This bold restatement of policy comes on the day it emerged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may have to soften its own hard-line doping stance.

Currently, anybody given a ban longer than six months misses the next Games.

But with LaShawn Merritt fighting his ban, the IOC has said it will accept a "definitive ruling" from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Merritt, the reigning Olympic and World 400m champion, was given a two-year suspension for failing three tests for a banned steroid in early 2010.

That provisional ban was later reduced to 21 months and backdated until October 2009, making the 24-year-old eligible for competition again this summer. It is entirely possible, for example, that he will compete for the United States at this year's World Championships.

It is important to find the right balance in a rigorous anti-doping system that protects the overwhelming majority of athletes who compete clean while also introducing meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules

British Olympic Association

But under IOC Rule 45 the American track star would still be ineligible for next year's London Olympics. This sanction came into force shortly before the 2008 Olympics and was a direct result of years of negative headlines about failed drugs tests and fallen idols.

Critics of the rule claim this is a classic example of double jeopardy and in Merritt's case amounts to a three-year ban - an additional arbitrary penalty that goes beyond the sanctions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Wednesday's announcement that the IOC has agreed to go to CAS, sport's highest legal authority, for "clarification" of the rules on Olympic eligibility comes after months of private negotiations with the US Olympic Committee.

Worried about their own legal position, American Olympic bosses have made it clear they do not want to be in a situation where an athlete could be eligible to take part in their trials but then prevented from taking up his or her place at the Games.

While Merritt is the most high-profile athlete currently affected by the rule, any change to IOC policy could have an impact on banned athletes around the world, particularly in Britain.

The British Olympic Association's by-law 25 goes considerably further than the IOC's "six month rule" as it brings a lifetime ban for any athlete found guilty of a doping offence.

The BOA by-law has been steeped in controversy since its introduction in 1992, none more so than when sprinter Dwain Chambers tried to gain an injunction against it so he could be selected for the Beijing Olympics.

That challenge failed but the court's decision was not an unequivocal backing of the BOA's position. It was more a technical ruling on the nature of Chambers' argument.

Some experts believe a real challenge to the BOA by-law would see it thrown out and a CAS ruling against the IOC would see the British stance even more isolated.

A spokesman for the BOA admitted it would be following the Merritt case closely but said it was difficult to judge what impact any CAS decision would have on its rulebook.

"We agree it is important to find the right balance in a rigorous anti-doping system that protects the health and well-being of the overwhelming majority of athletes who choose to compete clean while also introducing meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules," he said.

What is clear is that the BOA will not roll over. It threw all its resources at the Chambers challenge and could be expected to do so again.

The by-law has become an article of faith at Team GB's headquarters and any attempt to remove it would almost certainly have to take place in a British court.

The BOA stance also has the support of British Olympians. Whenever polled they say they value the higher standards the rule implies.

And there is one other important difference between the BOA and IOC position - the British sanction allows for appeals, as our own 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, to name just one example, can attest.



see also
Chambers may consider ban appeal
04 Mar 11 |  Athletics
Merritt to miss London 2012 - IOC
19 Oct 10 |  Athletics
Merritt given 21-month doping ban
18 Oct 10 |  Athletics
400m star Merritt tests positive
22 Apr 10 |  Athletics
GB Olympic bans not 'rock solid'
21 Jul 08 |  Athletics
Chambers loses Olympic ban case
18 Jul 08 |  Athletics
Olympics set for new doping rule
06 Jun 08 |  Beijing 2008


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