London: Less than five months before the London Games, Britain`s Olympic leaders will fight to keep lifetime bans for doping cheats during a hearing in front of world sport`s top court on Monday.
No other country enforces such a strong sanction and the British Olympic Association is challenging the World Anti-Doping Agency`s assertion that its code is violated by the 20-year-old rule.
If the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules in favor of WADA and against the 2012 Olympic host nation, sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar will be become eligible to compete on home soil this summer.
But BOA chairman Colin Moynihan is trying to keep them off the team, arguing that imposing life bans ensures the Olympics is "a big celebration of sport and not a competition between chemists` laboratories."
"The CAS case is about us having the right to select clean athletes for a clean games and the autonomy of the national Olympic committees to select who they think are right to represent their countries," Moynihan said on the eve of the hearing in London.
"This is no different to the right that Alex Ferguson has every Saturday to select the Manchester United players he feels are right," he added. "That right of selection is completely separate from the sanctions imposed by WADA and those are sanctions that we adhere to."
But the BOA`s sanction has been under threat since the same court that will hear Monday`s case last year threw out an International Olympic Committee rule barring athletes with doping suspensions of more than six months from the next games.
That CAS decision prompted the anti-doping agency to declare Britain "noncompliant" with its global code, deeming that lifetime bans amounted to a second sanction for the same offense. The BOA maintains its bylaw is an eligibility issue, not a sanction.
"WADA was established ... so that all the rules relating to doping in sport would be the same," WADA director general David Howman told British broadcaster ITV. "(The BOA rule) destroys harmony and so you have got athletes in one particular country who are subject to harder rules than you would have in other countries."
Howman`s case is backed by a growing number of British Olympians, with Moynihan conceding that support among them for lifetime bans might have dropped from 90 percent to 70 percent. Marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe became one of the first leading British Olympians to publicly change her stance last year by declaring in an Associated Press interview that the BOA ban now unfairly penalizes compatriots like Chambers.
The 33-year-old sprinter, who won a bronze medal in the 60 meters at the world indoor championships on Saturday, served a two-year ban after testing positive for the steroid THG in 2003.
"My time is limited in the sport now, I only have a short window left," he said recently. "If the door of opportunity opens, it will be an honor to perform in front of the British crowd."
Chambers failed to obtain an injunction against the BOA ban in 2008 at London`s High Court in order to compete in the Beijing Games. The BOA`s legal team will again be led by David Panick on Monday.
Moynihan said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the case, but will have to wait until April for a verdict.
"The games should be clean," Moynihan said. "There will be no room in Team GB for those who had knowingly cheated, through the use of drugs."
But if CAS rules against the British body, there could be spots on the Olympics team for Chambers and Millar, who was suspended in 2004 for two years after testing positive for the blood-boosting agent EPO.
"Both of them have campaigned strongly now against drugs in sport but they have campaigned in full knowledge that our selection policy has not changed," Moynihan said.
"Those who argue there should be redemption for the most serious of drug cheats should pause to reflect that there is no redemption for the clean athletes who have never put on the Olympic kit and have never been selected because there are cheats out there who don`t want to get caught and want to be selected, and have knowingly taken those drugs to deny clean athletes the right of selection."
The CAS ruling against the IOC`s regulation last year cleared the way for American 400-meter runner LaShawn Merritt to defend his Olympic title in London. Merritt completed a 21-month doping ban last year.