By Legal Weasel, a sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.
How would you feel if on 5 August 2012 Dwain Chambers wins the men’s 100 metres final at the Olympics? No, really, it could happen. True, one Usain Bolt appears to be widely considered the favourite, but as anyone who has seen his Visa ad will know, Mr Bolt is apparently planning to get to the Olympic Stadium on foot and by public transport. Which means that at the moment when the starter’s gun goes he’s as likely to be stuck in essential engineering works at Aldgate East as he is to be on the starting line. And, yes, that would still leave Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, and one or two others, but strange things do happen. Mr Blake and Mr Gay might accidentally tie their shoelaces together, or both be abducted by aliens. Think about it for a moment. If you were an alien, planning to abduct the finest physical specimens of humanity for your nefarious alien purposes, where else would you look for those specimens but the 100 metres final? The more one thinks about it, the more possible it seems. All of which could yet leave the way clear for Mr Chambers to claim the gold.
Which, in turn, brings us back to the original question. How would you feel? Would you rejoice at this triumph for Team GB in the blue riband event of the Olympics? Or would you feel that the medal had gone to “Drugs Cheat Chambers”, who, in the words of one commentator, “will besmirch the Team GB vest by wearing it” and who ought, presumably, to be running, if at all, either without a vest, or in the vest of Team Drugs Cheat? For (just in case you have spent the last few years on Mars) Drugs Cheat Chambers tested positive for the banned steroid THG in 2003. Under WADA (that’s the World Anti Doping Agency to you and me) rules at the time, DCC served a mandatory two year ban only for the British Olympic Association to top this ban up with a lifetime ban from the Olympics. That lifetime ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this April, clearing the way for DCC to besmirch the Team GB vest.
Determining the rights and wrongs here involves wading into deep and murky (not to say, besmirched) waters. The question of which substances ought to be permitted and which ought to be banned is itself a contentious question, but fundamentally irrelevant to the issues as they pertain to DCC. Athletics, as is all sport, is founded on the principle of fair and equal competition. If the rules outlaw a substance, then any athlete who uses that substance potentially gains an unfair advantage, regardless of whether one could make a case against the banning of that particular substance. Football might be a much better game played with twelve players a side, but the rules say it has to be eleven, and if a team plays with twelve then that team is gaining an unfair advantage. Unless, of course, the twelve are the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ defence, in which case it would just be evening things up a bit. By taking THG, DCC besmirched the principle of fair and equal competition that lies at the heart of all competitive sport.
And yet. Doesn’t everyone deserve a second (or in the case of Joey Barton, a fifteenth) chance? In our society villains and cheats of all descriptions, thieves, arsonists, murderers, even Joey Barton, get another chance. Is taking a banned substance by a young sportsman, in a sport where it was rife, really the only unforgivable sin? Ex Drugs Cheat Chambers appears to be a reformed character, taking time out from his litigation against the BOA (sorry, that should read “from his intensive preparation for the 100 metre vest besmirching”) to speak to young athletes about the dangers of becoming, well, a Drugs Cheat. The Bible tells us that there is joy in heaven over every sinner that repents; if heaven itself can manage joy, couldn’t the BOA manage, if not joy, at least, acceptance?
Deep waters indeed. But, in legal terms, not so deep. In fact, clear cut. Unbesmirched, even.
Ex DCC breached one of his sport’s rules. And received the prescribed penalty at the time. And served it. And, legally, that’s all there is to say about it. End. Of. Story. It’s a fundamental principle of fairness, not just in sports law, but throughout the law, that if one commits an offence one serves the penalty prescribed at the time. Imagine, if you would, that a (different) Mr Chambers were found guilty of speeding. Say, doing 45 mph in a residential area with a 30mph limit. Depending on your own driving habits, dear Reader, you may think that Reckless Driver Chambers is nowhere near in the same morally dark place as Drugs Cheat Chambers. Or you might take the view that Drugs Cheat Chambers endangered the lives of no one but (possibly, depending on the effects of THG) himself, whereas Reckless Driver Chambers might, depending on the circumstances, have endangered other lives. It matters not; whatever your view, you’re likely to accept that the sentencing guidelines recommend a £60 fine and three penalty points, and that Reckless Driver Chambers, having been caught, can rightly expect to receive these. But if some other body – say, the British Non Reckless Driving Association – were to announce out of the blue that it had decided to take a stand against Reckless Driver Chambers and to impose a life time driving ban, then, whatever your viewpoint as to the respective moral culpability of DCC and RDC, you’re likely to take the view that Chambers has been treated unfairly. Sure, if £60 and three penalty points is in your book too lenient, then change the sentencing guidelines. State that a lifetime ban will be imposed. And publicise that. And let RDC, and others, decide whether they want to take the risk. But, don’t impose an additional sanction, out of the blue, and retrospectively. That wouldn’t be good law, and it wouldn’t be fair. Ex Drug Cheat Chambers is just that: an ex drug cheat who has served the full penalty prescribed for the offence at the time, and justice and fairness alike require that having served that penalty, he be allowed to run.<
Which means that if you don’t want the winners podium to be besmirched with an ex drug cheat’s presence, you’d better hope that Usain Bolt, Esq, makes it to the starting line.« The past and the future of Alex McLeish – by Mark McWilliams Financial Fair Play and the summer window: austerity or growth? »
About Legal Weasel
A sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.
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