LONDON — Britain will grudgingly accept former doping offenders into the Olympic team after a costly failure to convince sport’s highest court to approve automatic lifetime bans.
The British Olympic Association spent 100,000 pounds ($162,400) trying to prevent former drug cheats, including sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar, from representing the host nation at the London Games.
But now they are eligible to qualify for the Olympics against the wishes of the BOA, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that its lifetime ban from competing at the games fails to comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
“We will give absolutely maximum support to every athlete who is selected for Team GB,” BOA chairman Colin Moynihan said Monday after the CAS ruling was published.
Chambers, who won a bronze medal in the 60 meters at the world indoor championships in March, served a two-year ban after testing positive for the steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) in 2003 but can now try to make the British team at the Olympic trials in July.
Millar was suspended in 2004 for two years after testing positive for the blood-boosting agent Erythropoietin (EPO).
“If they become members of Team GB they will be treated just as every other athlete in the delegation. There will be no two-tier team,” Moynihan said. “The BOA has a responsibility to make certain all athletes are treated in a manner that is equal and fair.”
Chambers has yet to comment on his eligibility for the London Games after failing to convince a British court to allow him to compete in Beijing in 2008.
But Chambers’ lawyer Siza Agha said the BOA’s case has been “an exposure of colonial arrogance that even the most extreme and blinkered should have realized could only serve to marginalize British opinion on the international stage.”
A three-man CAS panel said a lifetime ban from the Olympics amounts to a second sanction after an initial doping ban. The BOA had argued that it was an eligibility issue rather than a sanction.
The CAS decision was in line with its ruling in October, when it threw out the International Olympic Committee rule that would have barred athletes who had received drug bans of more than six months from competing in the next games.
Moynihan described the latest verdict as a “hollow victory for WADA.”
In recent months, Moynihan has been harshly critical of WADA, accusing it of failing to catch the world’s biggest drug cheats and of dragging the doping fight into a “dark age.” He called for an independent review of the Montreal-based body.
“WADA regrets the many hysterical and inaccurate public statements from the BOA in the course of challenging the WADA decision,” WADA President John Fahey said in a statement. “WADA has spent the last decade harmonizing the fight against doping in sport across the world by creating one set of rules.”
“We live in difficult days when WADA spends time and money reducing those countries which have taken a determined stance against drug cheats in sport,” he said.
Ordering the BOA to pay some of WADA’s legal costs, CAS said the appeal was “unnecessarily increased by the voluminous and largely irrelevant submissions and evidence submitted by the BOA on this appeal.”
CAS said its rulings underlined the international sports movement’s commitment to harmonized anti-doping rules and policies laid out in the WADA code.
“All signatories have agreed to comply … without any substantial deviation in any direction,” CAS said.
The panel said the IOC and BOA are still free to try to persuade other bodies that an extra sanction involving a ban from the Olympics “may be a proportionate, appropriate sanction” that could be part of a revised WADA code in the future.
“At the moment the system in place does not permit what the BOA has done,” CAS said.
But UK Athletics said it supported lifetime Olympic bans as it prepares to accept Chambers on the team.
“Athletes affected by the ruling are now eligible for the team, in both individual and relay events, and will be subject to the same selection criteria and process as every other British athlete,” UK Athletics said in a statement.
British Cycling, which could be forced to select Millar, stressed that it will select riders who are “fit and available, and who we believe have the best chance to deliver medals.”
The ruling was welcomed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“This is the right decision for all clean athletes who depend on the uniformity and certainty of the World Anti-Doping Code to provide a level playing field for all Olympic sport,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.
“This decision by the Supreme Court of sport is another strong and powerful statement that WADA has the authority to set the global standards for effective anti-doping programs to best protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport.”