Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Olympic Eligibility


LaShawn Merritt, a champion. Or is he? I read an article about his eligibility being reinstated. This was originally in the New York Times. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think that once an athlete pays his/her dues they should be eligible to compete again or do you think once a cheater, always a cheater?



The Olympic 400-meter champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States and possibly dozens of other athletes had their eligibility for the 2012 London Games restored Thursday when a doping punishment put in place by the International Olympic Committee was struck down as overly severe.


The Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, nullified a 2008 I.O.C. rule that barred athletes who had served a doping suspension of six months or longer from competing in the next Olympics, even if they had completed their original sanctions.


In its ruling Thursday, the sports appeals court called the I.O.C.’s rule “invalid and unenforceable” and said it violated the statutes of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was created to bring about uniform handling of cases involving banned substances. Essentially, a Court of Arbitration for Sport panel ruled that athletes were being penalized twice for the same offense.


The most visible beneficiary of the ruling Thursday is Merritt, who won a gold medal in the 400 at the 2008 Beijing Games. He was later suspended from competition for 21 months after testing positive for a steroid found in a male-enhancement product.


Although Merritt’s suspension ended in July, he would have still faced a ban from the London Games had the I.O.C. rule not been overturned, even though the substance he took was designed to enhance sexual performance, not athletic performance.


“LaShawn is really happy with the result,” his lawyer, Howard Jacobs, said in a telephone interview. “If you serve your suspension, you should be able to return to competition, and that is all competition.”


Merritt will be among the favorites as he tries to repeat as 400-meter champion next summer. At the recent world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea, he finished second in the open 400 and helped the United States win the 4x400-meter relay.


Thursday’s ruling could also affect the British Olympic Association, which has a rule that bars its athletes from the Winter and Summer Games for life if they commit a serious doping offense. Now the chances for the British sprinter Dwain Chambers and the cyclist David Millar to compete in the London Games could have gained newfound traction.


About 50 track and field athletes had their chances of competing in London elevated by the ruling, according to the I.A.A.F., the sport’s governing body.


The I.O.C. rule had not been met with uniform acceptance in the Olympic and antidoping worlds. Both the United States Olympic Committee and the United States Anti-Doping Agency had supported the restoration of Merritt’s eligibility. The I.O.C. and the U.S.O.C. had taken the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, seeking clarity on eligibility issues.


“This decision does not diminish our commitment to the fight against doping, but rather ensures that athletes and national Olympic committees have certainty as they prepare for London,” Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the U.S.O.C., said in a statement.


The I.O.C. said in a statement that it “fully respects” the ruling of the arbitration panel but expressed disappointment at the outcome. The Olympic committee also said it would attempt to have the rule restored when the World Anti-Doping Agency bylaws are revised in 2013.


“The I.O.C. has a zero tolerance against doping and has shown and continues to show its determination to catch cheats,” the committee said in a statement. “We are therefore naturally disappointed since the measure was originally adopted to support the values that underpin the Olympic movement and to protect the huge majority of athletes who compete fairly.”