POSTED: October 4th 2011

JOHN GOODBODY: Huge question mark on CAS ruling with Merritt case on Thursday

Headquarters of the CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland / CAS
Headquarters of the CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland / CAS

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LONDON: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) seems set for a rebuff on Thursday when the decision will be announced whether LaShawn Merritt, the American athlete, can defend his Olympic 400 metres title in London next year.

It is widely believed that the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) will rule against Rule 45 of the IOC which bars competitors, found guilty of a serious drugs offence, from taking part in the subsequent Olympics.

Merritt claims that his positive test derives from sexual enhancement pills that he had been taking and that he was unaware that it contained a banned substance.

Whatever the truth of this particular case, of far greater interest is the broader interest.

Colin Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), regards the ruling as “the greatest landmark in the fight against doping since the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.”

Whatever occurs, the BOA will still maintain its bylaw which is even more draconian – competitors found guilty of a serious doping offence are banning for life from the Games, either as competitor or official.

However, the BOA believes it is on firmer ground than the IOC because, unlike the IOC, it has an appeals procedure. In fact, of the 32 appeals since the bylaw was introduced 20 years ago, 29 have been successful.

Lord Moynihan says: ”The BOA eligibility bylaw is proportionate and consistent with European Union and United Kingdom competition law, the restraint of trade doctrine and human rights law.

"The bylaw addresses eligibility and is not a sanction. It provides an avenue for appeal and allows for the consideration of mitigating circumstances.”

He added: ”In recent years, British Olympic sport has tragically lost two amazingly talented athletes in the sprinter Dwain Chambers and the cyclist David Millar.

"They are both talented, accomplished and intelligent men. They both realised that the moment they turned to a cocktail of drug of performance-enhancing drugs they were turning their backs on an Olympic future. Every time, I see them compete I feel a tragic sense of sadness and loss at their decision.”

Before the 2008 Games, Chambers tried to get an injunction against the bylaw to allow him to compete in Beijing while a subsequent full hearing could be held in the High Court in London challenging the bylaw. He failed.

Still the judge, Mr Justice Mackay, implied that it was not impossible that a trial might see the bylaw differently but sports lawyers have always believed that it would take a brave (and wealthy) person to risk going to law, given that failure of Chambers.

The BOA should not be bound to take note of the CAS decision if it goes against the IOC because the IOC Charter expressly allows the ability of the individual National Olympic Committees to determine the eligibility standards for their Olympic teams.

Lord Moynihan is also reflecting the view of the competitors themselves.

In every survey carried out by the BOA of British competitors in the Games, more than 95 percent has supported its stance.

They do not want people alongside them in the team who have cheated and demonstrably cheated. Far too often in sport, administrators pay too little attention to the wishes of the competitors.

The BOA should be congratulated not only in adopting the bylaw but also on sticking with it.

Other National Olympic Committees should consider adopting similar bylaws if the CAS decision goes against the IOC this week.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · IOC · CAS · LaShawn Merritt · John Goodbody · athletics · antidoping

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