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Steroids And Sports

Last year, a famous athlete on this side of the pond was asked by the BBC whether a clean athlete could ever beat a doped one in an Olympic final. The athlete replied: 'It's possible, but the athlete taking drugs has to be having a real bad day'.

Dwain Chambers was his name, and that answer might have been honest, but it did him no good at all. Because in 2003 Dwain Chambers had tested positive for the performance enhancing steroid THG, for which he was banned from athletics for two years.

Since then he has completed an unsuccessful spell playing American football with the Hamburg Sea Devils in a European League. Having failed to reinvent himself there, Dwain Chambers has now come back to running. He remains at the top of his sport, and when he won the a major race at the indoor trials last weekend he won a place to represent Great Britain in the World Indoor Championships.

But there is something extraordinary about this comeback. The six man committee which picked him immediately issued a statement saying they would have preferred not to have picked him at all, and I quote: "The committee was unanimous in its desire not to select Dwain." They only picked him because legally they had to and the athlete's lawyers were ready to take them to court if they failed to do so.

The members of the committee complain that Chambers has only had one drugs test in more than a year, because of course he was abroad. But that of course is their fault rather than his. They thought he had retired from athletics, and therefore took him off the drug-testing list.

However that is not the central issue here. Chambers has done his time and has every right to run, but that is not the issue either. The real problem is that increasingly people watch athletics with a weary distrust of the whole sport. They simply don't believe in it any more. To quote Dwain Chambers, they believe the athlete taking drugs has to be having 'a real bad day' not to win.

As I heard an American commentator say, it's 'use or lose'. And as public attitudes harden here, so do those inside the sport. A woman athlete who won Olympic gold twice for Britain, Kelly Holmes, initially supported his return, but now says it is wrong to allow someone who has admitted cheating to represent his country. The call from many in British athletics is that if you cheat, you should be out -- forever.
By Peter Allen