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Big Debate: The BOA, drugs and the price of forgiveness

14:55 28 May 2012

David Millar puts on the Tour de France leader

David Millar puts on the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey back in 2000.

Cheats should never prosper – but should they be given a second chance? MICHAEL BAILEY looks into the battle that offered redemption for Dwain Chambers and others.

It began with the British Olympic Association (BOA) taking a stand 20 years ago. Any competitor found using banned substances to artificially improve performance was to be scrubbed off Team GB’s Olympic map forever.

Never to be allowed to compete at a Games again. They had blown their chance. Those that missed out because of it took their punishment.

Compared to some sports, it was a stance to be applauded.

As a keen cycling fan, I get bored of clenbuterol and blood doping ruining such wonderful spectacles as the Tour de France.

The UCI procrastinates with two-year bans and protracted battles involving the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), eventually seeing cyclists ride out their suspensions before returning as if they had never been away.

But the doubt over their integrity of performance always hangs around – and some live up to their billing by making the same mistakes again.

For professional cycling, lifetime bans would make the risks of cheating too great. It would help in the battle to clean up the sport. Zero tolerance. No excuse.

So surely credit rather than criticism should head the way of the BOA?

Athletics, and certainly the Olympics, have never been too far from a failed drug test or a medal being controversially handed back.

Like – and including – cycling, the psychology behind a lifetime ban would surely have made those selfish decisions just too risky given the possibility of your Olympic career being over; especially in sports such as rowing where the Games are the pinnacle.

But in the end, it was the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) that won out. Seeking a consistent approach across the globe, the bar was dropped well below the BOA’s “by-law” rather than raised to meet it.

So sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar, among others, are back in the frame for London selection.

The pair have served their two-year bans and made sporting returns. In Millar’s case, he has performed well – and more than spoken out over the sport’s doping issues as he looks to regain favour and trust.

But all the time there are others busting a gut to come through or reach their peak – all off their own steam, with the aim of making it to the top.

Should they not be the ones to get their chance this summer? Haven’t Millar and Chambers already blown it, however much making up they do? Does rehabilitation have to come with a return to competition?

Forgiveness is a complex issue beyond sports rules, let alone within them. In some ways the likes of Chambers and Millar are victims of circumstance.

The real issue to take up is the fact the environment of serious recrimination – actually risking your entire career – does not currently exist worldwide. Worse than that, Wada has seemingly taken a backward step.

Cas ruled the BOA’s lifetime ban could yet become a binding Wada rule if all Olympic associations want to see it. If I was heading the BOA, I would make that my next battle.

As for Millar and Chambers, they may be the winners from a courtroom clash – but their battles are ongoing, whether they make it to London or not.

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