Merritt case is athletics’ Bosman rule

BRITISH Olympic chiefs have warned they will not drop their controversial lifetime ban for drug cheats despite the threat posed by a landmark European legal case that experts have likened to the Bosman ruling.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) yesterday ruled in favour of American 400m runner LaShawn Merritt, who argued that an International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule banning him from London 2012 was illegal.

Merritt bulldozed the IOC rule that bars from the next Games an athlete who has received a doping suspension of more than six months by arguing it exceeded the two-year ban decreed by the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada).

His success also paves the way for challenges to the BOA’s by-law, which bans for life from the Olympics any athlete found to have doped and also goes beyond Wada’s stipulations.

Sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar are among those British competitors who could seek to follow Merritt and have their lifetime bans overturned. Both were last night considering their options.

But BOA chairman Lord Moynihan defended the “tough but fair” ban, arguing that its inclusion of an appeal system, unlike the IOC, rendered it subtly different in law. “Fundamentally, the BOA by-law addresses eligibility and is not a sanction,” he added. The BOA have written to the IOC seeking urgent clarification but said in a statement that their strict regulations had the support of more than 90 per cent of British athletes and Wada.

However, Simon Boyes, a sports law expert at Nottingham Trent University, believes the CAS verdict against the IOC could be as far-reaching as football’s paradigm-changing Bosman ruling, which granted players freedom of movement when their contracts expire.

“There is some chance that the BOA by-law might survive but it’s a very slim one,” he told City A.M.

“In many respects this verdict is not dissimilar to the Bosman case. Fundamentally it shows the IOC is subject to challenge. It was pretty impervious beforehand and this is a landmark case. It’s potentially embarrassing for the BOA and you might wonder if they have dug their heels in too long and missed the opportunity to back down earlier.”