David Millar may be free to compete for Great Britain in the London Olympics after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) described a rule introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2008 preventing athletes who had served a doping ban of six months or more from competing in the next Olympics after the end of their suspension as “invalid and unenforceable.”
While it is a rule of the British Olympic Association (BOA) and not the IOC that prevents Millar and the athlete Dwain Chambers from competing in the Olympics for Great Britain – they are banned for life from doing so under BOA bylaw 25 – today’s ruling does suggest that heavier sanctions imposed outside the scope of the the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) would be held invalid if tested in court.
The case that was the subject of today’s CAS ruling related to Olympic 400 metres champion, LaShawn Merritt, who was given a two-year ban, later reduced to 21 months, after testing positive for the steroid Dehydroepiandrosterone, which he said had been contained in a male enhancement product he had used.
Merritt returned to competition this year, and won silver in the 400 metres at the recent World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, as well as gold in the 400 metres relay as part of the US team.
Under Rule 45 of the Olympic Charter, also known as the Osaka Rule, however, Merritt would not have been allowed to compete in the London 2012 Olympics.
In its ruling, CAS says that the Osaka Rule is not only in conflict with the WADC, to which the IOC is a signatory, but is also a violation of the Olympic Charter itself, because the WADC is deemed to be part of the charter by incorporation.
It added that if the IOC did want to exclude athletes who had served a doping ban from the next Olympics after their ban had expired, then the way to do that would be by proposing an amendment to the WADC, thereby avoiding the prospect of double jeopardy.
While the decision leaves Merritt free to compete in London, the situation for Millar and Chambers, another high-profile British athlete to have served a doping ban and who unsuccessfully challenged the BOA stance in the courts before the Beiing Olympics, is much less clear.
That’s because the rules preventing them for being considered for selection for London 2012 are specific to the British Olympic Association and were not the subject of today's ruling, althoug it does seem to undermine the BOA's position.
Both Millar and Champvers returned from their doping bans prior to the Beijing Games, which is the event they would have been excluded from under the Olympic Charter’s Rule 45, which was adopted in June 2008.
Even if he were available for selection, there is the issue of where Millar, banned for two years in 2004 after confessing to doping and stripped of the time trial world championship he had won the previous year in Hamilton, Canada, might fit into the Great Britain team.
The sole berth in the individual time trial is almost certain to go to Bradley Wiggins, runner-up to Tony Martin in last month’s road world championships in Copenhagen.
That would potentially leave Millar, who himself claimed time trial silver behind Fabian Cancellara in Geelong 12 months earlier, as one of the five members of the road race team.
That could see him act as road captain, a role he undertook to great effect in helping Mark Cavendish to win the rainbow jersey last month, while also being a reserve to Wiggins for the time trial.
For his part, Millar, currently in China for the Tour of Beijing, said on Twitter this morning: “CAS ruling on IOC Rule 45 a good thing for future of international sport. Only a matter of time till all countries respect WADA Code.”
He added: “For all those calling and messaging me. Allow me to digest it, then I'll write something down later this evening (Beijing time). *Thinking*”
Earlier this week, Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) criticised the BOA’s stance, telling the BBC: "Once you set the rules and the world agrees to them, you ought to play by those rules.
"Let's not go outside [the WADA] process, like the BOA has, and have a rule that supersedes the rules we've all signed up to as the final word on what the sanctions should be.
"If we want lifetime bans – and that could be the right thing to do to protect clean athletes – let's do it via WADA so that it applies to every country.
"Let's have that discussion about increased sanctions but you cannot have one country doing it when everybody else doesn't."
Irrespective of whether Millar is allowed to compete at London 2012, the Garmin Cervelo rider, now one of the most vociferous critics of doping in the peloton, will be entitled to be present as a member of WADA’s Athlete Committee.
That apparent anomaly is as much a quirk of the world of sports politics as is the fact that UCI President Pat McQuaid has a seat on the International Olympic Committee despite having a lifetime ban from competing in the Olympic Games after racing in South Africa during the 1970s sanctions era.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.