Do you believe in second chances? Well, the chances are that if you’re Dwain Chambers, the British sprinting star who has had his lifetime Olympic ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), you certainly do.
The 34 year-old was once considered one of the leading lights of Britain’s sprinting program: he’s won gold medals at the Commonwealth, European Championships and World Indoor Championships (either by himself or as part of the 4×100 relay team) and has also medaled at the World Championships. Chambers has been the fastest Brit over 100m every year since 2008 and his personal best of 9.97 (set in 1999) is the second-fastest time ever recorded by a Briton, behind Olympic champion Linford Christie.
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But ever since failing a drug test in 2003 (he would be banned for taking the designer steroid THG), and then confessing to an 18-month doping regime under Balco pharmacologist Victor Conte, it’s been a tough road back to redemption. Many people didn’t think he deserved the trip (he even tried to make it in NFL Europa and, after an injury curtailed that venture, went down the reality TV route). In a forthright interview with the Daily Telegraph, Chambers poured his heart out. He appears contrite, offering apologies such as “all I can do is say I am sorry,” and “I have made a mistake, a massive mistake, and all I want is another chance to correct it, a chance to do the best for my country.”
Chambers finds himself in a position where he can potentially compete at his home Olympics after the British Olympic Association (BOA) lost its fight with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The key issue was that the BOA believed it had the right to continue imposing lifetime Olympic bans on its athletes, regardless of suspensions being served. But the CAS judgment was that “the by-law is a doping sanction and therefore not in compliance with the WADA Code.”
In the aftermath of the ruling, the language on both sides was highly toxic. “The BOA are clearly very disappointed in the outcome,” said BOA chairman Lord Moynihan.”We must now move the discussion forward. We will seek far-reaching reform, calling for tougher and more realistic sanctions; a minimum of four years including one Games.” But Chambers’ lawyer Siza Agha said it “has been a crude and defiant display” from the BOA, “fueled by misguided statements such as ‘we have standards and the rest of the world doesn’t’.”
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Which side of the line do you come down on? The pro-Chambers argument would run that he’s served WADA’s two-year ban and, legally, he is in the clear. British Olympian Colin Jackson feels that “fans are used to him being in the team so already he has been accepted and it has no relevance to the other athletes.” (Chambers maintains that he’s received “tons” of texts and messages of congratulations from his teammates). But the moral case seems to raise more profound questions: what good is this to the many clean athletes competing within the rules and regulations of the sport? How can allowing an athlete such as Chambers (or indeed the cyclist David Millar, who also had his ban overturned) back into the fold increase team harmony come the Olympics? And if we’re truly talking second chances, who looks out for those who’ve missed out on medals because their peers were cheating? And that’s to say nothing of athletes who don’t even make the squad because their places have gone to former drugs cheats.
But Chambers is arguably a trickier story to analyze, as he has worked with the anti-doping authorities in their on-going fight against cheats (and yes, we recognize it’s easy to act in such a manner after you’ve been caught) and has represented his country at the last two World Championships. The reality, whether you’re pro or anti-Chambers, is that if he runs according to form at the national trials next month, he’ll surely make the team and could even be a discretionary pick if he were to miss out.
And if all goes to plan and he makes the final of the 100m at the Olympic stadium in East London, will he be cheered as the world awaits the most exciting 10 seconds in sports? “I think so,” Chambers told the Telegraph. “My gut feeling is I’ve received good support these last few years.” But former British 400m runner Roger Black’s reaction could be the one most often replicated. “It’s hard to cheer someone on who’s purposefully tried to cheat other athletes. I’m not going to boo him, I’m just going to be indifferent.” Perhaps Chambers should ask himself if indifference is what he wants to get out of the Olympic Games.