The British Olympic Association (BOA) plans to strongly defend its policy of lifetime bans for drug cheats, regardless of the outcome of a hearing on Wednesday that may increase pressure on it to review the stance.
The US Olympic Committee's (USOC) challenge to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule that bars the 400m world and Olympic champion, LaShawn Merritt, from the London Games could have far-reaching implications and open the door for British athletes to challenge lifetime bans.
Wednesday's hearing at the court of arbitration for sport in Lausanne will result in a binding verdict next month on the IOC's so-called "six-month rule". The regulation, introduced before the 2008 Beijing Games at which Merritt won gold in the 400m, prevents athletes who receive doping bans of more than six months from competing at summer or Winter Games.
USOC argues that this effectively creates a position of double jeopardy whereby athletes can return to competition having served a ban but remain ineligible for the Olympics. It also fears the consequences of expensive litigation if it were to allow an athlete to qualify for the Games via its trials and he or she was subsequently banned.
The IOC, determined to take a hard line on doping, argues it should retain the ability to decide who is eligible for the Games. The BOA introduced its own rule that bans any athlete from the Games for life if they are banned for a doping offence in 1992, and it follows a similar logic. If USOC wins, the BOA would be unlikely to voluntarily drop the bylaw but could face a renewed challenge in a British court from ineligible banned athletes such as the cyclist David Millar or the athlete Dwain Chambers.
The UK Anti-Doping chief executive, Andy Parkinson, has consistently argued the lifetime ban is too harsh and could hinder efforts to catch other drug cheats. But the BOA chairman, Lord Moynihan, robustly defended its position on Wednesday, pointing to strong support from athletes for the measure and that there is an appeal mechanism. The provision for appeals has allowed Christine Ohuruogu, among others, to overturn lifetime bans due to mitigating circumstances.
"The BOA's position against cheating in sport remains robust," he said. "We strongly believe our bylaw on eligibility provides the right balance between a comprehensive appeal process, recognition of the consequences for an aspiring Olympic athlete who takes drugs to enhance performance, and the need to keep sport clean of the damaging consequences of cheating through the use of performance-enhancing substances."
Merritt, who won gold at the 2009 world championships, completed a 21-month ban on 27 July. He had testing positive for the banned substances DHEA and pregenolone, which he proved beyond reasonable doubt were present in his system as a result of ingesting a "male enhancement product" called ExtenZe that he bought from a 7 Eleven store.
The North American court of arbitration for sport panel that ruled on his case specifically said that he should not be banned from Olympic trials and called for a swift Cas ruling on the matter.
A three-person Cas panel, which on Wednesday heard from lawyers for both sides, said it would reach a decision by the end of next month.
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