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Dwain Chambers stopped in tracks as Niels de Vos begins cleansing process

4 February 2008

Rick Broadbent

Dwain Chambers's dream of rebuilding his career in a Great Britain vest were dealt a damning blow yesterday as Niels de Vos, the UK Athletics (UKA) chief executive, suggested that life bans and prison terms for drug cheats would help to cleanse the sport. “This is someone who has confessed to cheating, not false-starting,” he said.

The Chambers issue is dominating the build-up to this weekend's trials for the World Indoor Championships. The sprinter, who completed a two-year ban for taking tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) in 2006, achieved the qualifying mark for the 60metres on Saturday and hopes to represent Britain in Valencia next month. His lawyer, Nick Collins, faxed a letter to UKA yesterday seeking clarification over his place at the trials in Sheffield. De Vos believes that Chambers should not run because last month's drugs test was his first for a year, but the IAAF, the sport's world governing body, has said that Chambers never officially retired and is “fine to continue” from an anti-doping stance.

While accepting that UKA removed Chambers from the doping register, De Vos believes that is a nebulous defence. “He was told by us that we'd taken him off the register,” he said. “He could have said ‘leave me on', but this was a time when he was doing TV interviews saying he had turned his back on sport. He pretty much burnt every bridge he had.”

De Vos is leading a review of UKA's position on doping and admits that mistakes have been made. One of those, he thinks, was recalling Chambers to the Britain team after his ban expired in 2006. “Personally, I would advocate life bans,” De Vos said. “That would mean one or two people who accidentally get themselves into difficulty might get caught, but I'd rather have that than allowing the guilty to get off. This is not personal about an individual, it's about the sport.”

De Vos also cited the case of Justin Gatlin, the disgraced American sprinter, to reject claims that he has singled out Chambers. The Olympic champion, who was given an eight-year ban for doping, is fighting to be able to defend his title in Beijing this summer. “It's appalling that someone can get an eight-year ban, get that reduced to four and is now appealing it down to two,” De Vos said. “If that happens, athletics has a very real credibility problem. If Gatlin got back into the Olympics then the rest of the field should refuse to run against him. We can protect the image in the UK, but the authorities have to stand up.

“There is also a problem of the law versus sport. If athletes can continually use employment law to get around the law of sport then there is nowhere for sport to fight.”

UKA is consulting its lawyers before making a statement today on Chambers's participation in Sheffield, but De Vos's comments make it hard to see the 29-year-old's comeback resulting in a buried hatchet. Chambers said that he would like to meet De Vos and work with UKA to warn youngsters of the perils of doping, but De Vos wants the sport as a whole to take a harder line.

“For me, one test does not prove that he is clean enough to be considered[],” he said. “We need to multiply the deterrents. If there was a hint of criminal proceedings and a spell in the ‘nick', that would dramatically increase the pressure on an athlete who may be tempted down the drugs route.”

UKA will struggle to prevent Chambers from appearing in Sheffield, but De Vos would like the review to lead to a policy that states that those with drug convictions will be barred from representing Britain. “We have to strike a fine balance between what's legally doable and what's morally desirable,” he said. “There's no point taking a position that you can drive a coach and horses through legally.”

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