Duncan Mackay

Dwain_Chambers_head_and_shouldersJIM FERSTLE, an American freelance journalist, is one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of performance-enhancing drugs in sport and in an excluisve article for insidethegames gives us the US perspective on the return of Dwain Chambers, the original face of London 2012.

A SONGWRITER from my home state in the United States, Bob Dylan,  wrote a song in the 1960s about the Civil Rights movement titled: Only a Pawn in Their Game.

That may be an apt description of Dwain Chambers' current situation.

When they write the history of drugs in sport, Chambers could take a place along with Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, or other athletes branded by the Scarlet Letter of sports.

Each has come to represent a seminal moment or stage of the battle against drug use in sports.

When Johnson was caught in Seoul in 1988, the resulting fallout and revelations of the Dubin Commission inquiry in Canada laid the groundwork for the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over a decade later.

When Jones was forced to confess to some of her sins as a performance enhancing drug abuser, the power and influence of governments and the duplicity of athletes who were confronted with doping allegations were prominently on display.

What Chambers case represents is, in contrast, simple economics.

Some would say that the "blacklisting" of Chambers by European meet promoters is merely part of a gradual push by event organisers to cleanse their events of the stain of doping.

A desperate measure or long overdue?

It is an open secret that many of the same event organizers now preaching clean athletics, however, were years ago complicit in helping athletes avoid drug tests at their events.

Back then, the meet promoters marketed their events with hype about record attempts, fast times--Citus, Altus, Fortus.

With coverage of their events increasingly drowned out by stories of doping scandals, though, the economics changed.

Thus, the "ban the cheats" movement has become the flavor of the moment.

Even Balco boss Victor Conte, who has done quite well economically in the performance enhancing business, recognised the motivation behind the ban Chambers bandwagon.

It isn't about Olympian principles, he said, it's about economics - money and greed were the words he used.

As the bank robber Willie Sutton said when he was asked why he targeted banks: "That's where the money is."

If you really want to understand the motivations behind changes in the sports business, follow the money.

The money is hemorrhaging away from sports, such as cycling and athletics.

Not solely based on the doping issue, but, rightly or wrongly, drugs get the large share of the blame.

Chambers not alone

Chambers is not the only athlete being banished.

The 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain may not be able to defend is title, not because of a failed drug test, but because of a crackdown by Tour organisers against teams and/or individual riders who they deem tainted.

Directors of the major European Athletics meetings have agreed not to invite athletes who have been convicted of serious doping offences.

The race directors of the World Marathon Majors have issued a similar decree.

These event organisers now believe that an athlete who has been caught doping is not worth the risk.

After first shunning  Jones, but finally relenting and inviting her to meets last year, the Golden League event directors seem to now believe that forgiveness or inaction in the area of doping is no longer economically prudent.

Even the sport's agents have made a pact not to represent athletes who have committed serious doping offences.

But, as with many such moves in the past, these actions are not consistent or comprehensive.

As has been noted, while Chambers was not welcomed on the British team for Valencia, convicted "drug cheat" Carl Myerscough was.

While Contador may not be able to ride the Tour de France, convicted "drug cheat" Scotland's David Millar  might.

In the free market world of sports, it's about "putting bums on seats" and/or securing sponsor revenue that rules not rules, ethics, or morality.

In baseball in the US, home run king Barry Bonds and pitching ace Roger Clemens both commanded multi-million dollar salaries last year despite strong rumors of the alleged performance enhancing drug use.

Both had poor seasons.

The pressure on Major League Baseball to clean up its "steroids problem" has increased, and neither is likely to play this year.

Both are facing perjury charges, as did Jones, and neither has the box office appeal to override their off the field woes.

Such is the case with Chambers.

Although he ran impressively to qualify for the World Indoor Championships, 60 metres, which start tomorrow in Valencia, is not the Olympic 100m.

Could things change if he wins the World Indoor crown, breaks a record, and passes all his doping tests?

The major meets say they won't invite him, but what about the smaller ones?

If Chambers continues to impress, will the promoters, as they did with Jones, change their tune?


Sports is marketed as entertainment, and a proven entertainment formula is good versus evil, dirty versus clean.

Or does Chambers banishment have more to do with what he said than what he did?

Chambers answered honestly when asked by the BBC about the motivations behind using drugs, and the ability of somebody not doping beating somebody who was in an Olympic final.

For many, such as Dame Kelly Holmes, that seems to be Chambers' greatest sin, not that he violated the doping rules.

Ben Johnson's coach, Charlie Francis, was banished to the athletics wilderness in part because he told what he believed to be the truth to the Dubin Inquiry.

Yes, we did it, he said, but we weren't alone.

He still chafes at the hypocrisy of retired athletes and administrators who now condemn Chambers while having talked privately about their own transgressions years ago.

What is the truth is never easy to establish in everyday life, even more so when the topic turns to doping.

It is not all that different from the shamateur days of sports where everybody knew about the under the table payments, but all the effort was in devising ways to hide it so that even if you knew it, you couldn't prove it.

Such is the problem with doping.

While money is openly exchanged these days, the anti doping movement has not moved as fast into the era of professionalism as the rest of sport in its rules and regulations.

Amateur carry-over

It may be something of a carryover from the shamateur days of the past, but the anti-doping segment of Olympic sports has seemed to be the last to shed its amateur roots.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) has steadfastly clung to its Olympian pledge not to soil the British Olympic team with drug cheats.

Nearly every other country in the world takes a more legalistic and economically motivated approach to the crime and punishment model of anti-doping, however.

Indeed the WADA rules, as former WADA president Dick Pound told the BBC recently, do not contain a legal framework for lifetime bans.

If one has done the crime, he or she must do the time, but once that time is served they are free to return to sport, Pound said.

This seems to correspond with most legal systems where the punishment is supposed to "fit the crime."

An athlete who dopes is not deemed worthy of the "death penalty."

But as more Olympic sports see their sponsors getting nervous or leaving, their fan base eroding, many have concluded that it is time for drastic action, perhaps regardless of the legal wrangles that may ensue.

While sport is portrayed as ultimately egalitarian, a level playing field, at the elite level it's always been about money.

The Olympics were the playground of the rich where the allure often was watching to see if somebody from the lower classes could rise up through the ranks and deprive a rich guy of an Olympic medal.


Rooting for the underdog has always had great economic potential, not for those doing the rooting or striving, but for those who promoted and profited from the events.

Indeed, for the tiny nation of East Germany hauling in truckloads of Olympic medals was both great propaganda and box office story line until what everyone knew to be true was exposed.

The "underdog" had an elicit secret weapon, kryptonite for the bigger nations' super men and women, a superior system of administering performance enhancing drugs.

It could be argued that the development of much of the arsenal of doping products had its roots in the Olympic battles between the world's two political superpowers of the era.

US Dr. John Ziegler developed anabolic steroids to combat what was alleged to be the use of testosterone by the Soviet athletes.

In today's global economy, entrepreneurs like Conte do the drug development, and countries like China distribute the product worldwide over the internet.

For decades the sports superpowers pointed the finger at one another while they each did their best to see that their athletes had access to the best of everything, including performance enhancing drugs.

Our athletes are clean, was the public mantra, yours are dirty.

We'll get you what you need to succeed, was the private agreement, just don't get caught.

Into this world stepped Chambers.

He made one very big mistake.
He got caught.

Now the powers that be want to make an example of him.

But they forgot something.

The rules they have are untested in the real world, still rooted in the authoritarian code of the Olympic movement or the tortured process of trying to get the world to accept a universal anti-doping set of regulations.

The UK, for example, has it's own version of out of competition testing.

It is a system seemingly devised to make sure the testers are not inconvenienced and aimed at catching the organisationally challenged more than those who might be attempting to beat a doping test.

If the athlete gets to set the time and range of dates when they will be tested, it is not an out of competition, no notice test.

It is nothing more than a series of regular in competition tests.

This gives the advantage to the athlete using the drugs, rather than the testers, according to the lab scientists trying to find banned substances in the athletes' urine.

It qualifies as out of competition testing only by stretching the definition nearly to its limits.

Michele Verroken

Then there is the issue of independent testing.

After much urging by people, such as former head of the UK Sports anti doping unit, Michele Verroken, the UK is setting up a NADO (National Anti-Doping Organisation).

If you look at the composition of the project board charged with the development of the new organisation, however, eight of the 12 are members of the sporting establishment, not those known for independence or without potential conflicts.

Verroken is not part of the mix.

And right now all the focus is on Chambers, not those who make the rules or who enforce the rules.

Yet, as this plays out, it will be the rules that will prove decisive.

Can the BOA enforce their doping ban from the Olympics?

Can or will the meet promoters stick to their bans?

UK Athletics discovered to their dismay that their rules didn't allow them to do what they wanted to "drug cheats."

Others could discover the same thing.

In the past athletes were too poor or otherwise not able to challenge the rules or the athletics establishment.

Now, the stakes are higher.

Chambers may be willing to take up that challenge.

He may not want to be only a pawn in their game.

Either way, more attention needs to be paid to the rules and those making them than public relations moves against sanctioned athletes.

If we've learned anything in the more than 45 years of the Olympic anti-doping campaigning it's that talk is cheap, and cheap has not done much to slow down, let alone eliminate drug use in sports.

Jim Ferstle is a freelance writer and consultant based in St. Paul, Minnesota.