The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday released a unanimous ruling that struck down the British Olympic Association's maverick clause barring its athletes with past doping offenses from competing in the Olympics. In what can only be termed unsportsmanlike conduct, BOA chief Colin Moynihan characterized the decision as a "hollow victory" for the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose code sensibly mandates that all nations abide by the same rules.
It's not as if the BOA didn't see the freight train coming. In fact, the organization leaked heavy, public sighs of resignation several days before the ruling, the better to dilute the impact of the decision when it was officially published. But anyone who has followed this issue on its winding journey knew the BOA would lose this past October, when CAS reached the same conclusion about a similar double sanction imposed by the International Olympic Committee.
As WADA director general David Howman correctly noted Tuesday in a conference call with reporters, this was not a victory for WADA but a defeat of an appeal by the BOA, which in his words "wasted a lot of time and a lot of money and got an inevitable result."
When I asked how he felt about the BOA staking a claim to higher moral ground, he pointed out that defying the rules agreed upon by every other signatory of the code has its own ethical dubiousness -- a view previously and acerbically expressed by former WADA president Dick Pound in this story for The Guardian.
To borrow Michael Douglas' line from "The American President," this is a time for serious people, and the BOA's 15 minutes are up.
I made my arguments on the subject last fall in this column on the IOC's now-defunct Rule 45 -- which would have kept all athletes with doping convictions out of the next Olympics -- so I'll only summarize them here:
International anti-doping sanctions must be uniform, or the structure will collapse. Lifetime bans for a first offense will never stand up legally, and wealthy athletes would fight them until they broke the banks of anti-doping organizations with limited police powers and budgets. The code already gives WADA-compliant nations a large array of options for punishment and lifetime bans for repeat offenders. Based on my nearly two decades of covering doping issues in sports, all a first-offense lifetime ban would deter is any possibility of confessions, contrition and cooperation by athletes.
The BOA's stance has spawned some breathtaking hypocrisy and simplistic analysis over the past few months in the country that is about to host the Summer Olympics. (This take by freelancer Richard Moore on skysports.com was a welcome exception.)
On a recent trip to London, I absorbed headline after headline lamenting the potential Olympic participation of sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar. Yet both have returned from doping suspensions to compete for Great Britain in other world-class events accompanied by little or no outcry. Where were the histrionics when Millar played a key support role in Mark Cavendish's world championship ride last year? Get real. The Olympic Games are both an inspirational event and the biggest and most commercial meet in the world. They are not a dry run for admittance to heaven.
The regular process of WADA code revision is under way again. Stronger sanctions may emerge from those discussions, and that may or may not advance the cause of clean sport -- the dynamic is literally one of trial and error. Best of luck to everyone engaged in that effort. Sometimes it can be like herding cats.