Dwain Chambers’ eligibility for inclusion in the British Olympic Team is a victory for legal process over ethics and sporting integrity.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that the British Olympic Association’s byelaw, banning all athletes who have failed drugs tests from competing in the Games, is non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Association’s code.
Chambers was banned from athletics for two years in 2003 after testing positive for an anabolic steroid, but the byelaw meant that we would be banned from competing in the British Olympic Team for life.
Having failed an earlier appeal, he has now had a ruling that the lifetime ban from the British Olympic Team would constitute a second ban, contravening the code that athletes can only be banned for one set term for a particular offence.
The British Olympic Association argued that it is an eligibility criterion for their Team that athletes cannot have been banned from competing for six months or more, rather than an additional sanction.
Regardless of whether it is viewed as an additional sanction or an eligibility criterion, the points that need to be considered are why certain forms of cheating are thought to be worse than others, and whether sportsmen who cheat should be given a second chance and an opportunity to redeem themselves?
Unsporting behaviour, simulation and feigning injury are forms of cheating that spoil competitions and merit punishment; but their seriousness seems to pale in comparison to that of match fixing and taking performance enhancing drugs.
Accepting bribes to throw matches and lose competitions, or the use of illicit substances to gain an unfair advantage, seem to be intrinsically worse than diving to win a foul or trying to get an opponent cautioned.
They are all forms of cheating. But some forms of cheating just seem to be worse than others. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that the latter forms of cheating are simply cases of bending rules to gain an advantage within a game; whereas the former are illegal and subject to punishment outside of the game.
It is not always clear and sometimes it can be difficult to prove, but I think that sportsmen who cheat in any form ought to be punished appropriately. Most of the time the punishment tends to fit the wrong doing, but there are times when it appears to be too lenient or excessive.
Getting the balance right is important. It needs to act as a deterrent without being overly punitive. It needs to send the message that there is no place for cheating in sport, without certain individuals being made scapegoats on points of principle.
Furthermore, the values of honesty, integrity and fair play need to be upheld in sport, otherwise there really would be no point in competing.
Why would you dedicate years of your life to your sport to take part in a competition you have no chance of winning, just because one individual has taken performance enhancing drugs or because the result was fixed anyway?
I am definitely in favour of giving people a second chance. Most of us will have cheated in a game at some point in our lives, or bent the rules in a friendly competition that had little consequence beyond the event itself.
But when the competition is organised on a professional level, when it takes years of dedicated training to achieve a superior level of performance, integrity and fair play must be guaranteed. Otherwise you cannot call it a sport.
Second chances sometimes compromise sporting integrity. When it is as serious as bribery, financial doping or drug taking, they also devalue the hard work, dedication and sacrifices made by those who competed honestly, but were cheated.
These individuals will never get a second chance to win the original competition.