IOC holds 'moral high ground' in doping dispute

Updated: October 22, 2010, 8:10 PM ET
Associated Press

ACAPULCO, Mexico -- The IOC holds the "moral high ground" in the argument over a doping rule that prevents American runner LaShawn Merritt from defending his 400-meter title at the 2012 London Games, a senior Olympic official said Friday.

Merritt was banned for 21 months on Monday after testing positive for a banned substance found in a male enhancement product. Although his ban expires next summer, the Beijing gold medalist is ineligible to run in London the following year under an IOC rule which bars any athlete with a doping penalty of at least six months from competing in the next games.

The American arbitrators who banned Merritt contested the IOC rule. They said that because the IOC agrees to follow the world anti-doping code, it must adhere to its decision, which says barring Merritt from London was an inappropriate and extra punishment.

"I can understand the double jeopardy argument, but everybody knows what the rules of the game are," British IOC executive board member Craig Reedie said.

The matter could wind up before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an important test case for one of the cornerstones of the International Olympic Committee's anti-doping efforts. IOC officials said they are confident the rule would stand up to any challenge.

"While we regret when a distinguished athlete like LaShawn Merritt does this, I'm afraid he'll have to be responsible for his own actions," Reedie told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a meeting of national Olympic committees.

"The only absolute is that if it's on the banned list, it's in your system and you're held responsible, then I am afraid you suffer the penalty."

Reedie, who also serves on the World Anti-Doping Agency and London's 2012 organizing committee, noted that British athletes face a lifetime Olympic ban if they are caught doping under British Olympic Association rules.

"I think the IOC rule is in the same spirit," he said. "They are saying if you are convicted of an offense and you are properly convicted, then you will not go to the games. I think they hold the moral high ground."

The rule was approved at an IOC meeting in Osaka, Japan, ahead of the 2008 Beijing Games.

Merritt was given 21 months instead of the usual two-year suspension because he cooperated with authorities and was found to not have taken the drug to enhance athletic performance.

His suspension ends in July 2011, meaning Merritt could be eligible to defend his world 400-meter title at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, next year.

The American Arbitration Association panel, whose services are provided for anti-doping cases involving U.S. athletes and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the rule keeping Merritt out of the London Games is not an "appropriate consequence of his anti-doping violation."

"The rule has now become an established fight and it will run until and unless somebody challenges it, and I don't see why anybody would when it's a relatively modest penalty in time terms, as opposed to a life ban," Reedie said.

The arbitration panel claimed the IOC rule essentially extends Merritt's ban to three years.

"It's not three years, it's another competition," IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist told the AP. "The Olympic rules are the Olympic rules. And you always have the choice not to take this drug."

Reedie and Ljungqvist said the IOC took all legal arguments into consideration before enacting the rule.

"Definitely we'll have to defend it," Reedie said. "We've taken that view in Britain for years. It will stay until somebody tells us it's bad law."

Merritt's attorney, Howard Jacobs, responded Friday: "My only comment is that somebody has already told them that it is bad law -- the AAA Panel in the Merritt case."

Sebastian Coe, head of the London 2012 organizing committee and a vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said it is "perfectly legitimate" for the IOC to bar Merritt while the IAAF allows him to run at the worlds.

"The IOC have been very clear about the next Olympic Games," Coe said. "You might argue about the test and the result of that test but I don't think there is any disconnect between the IAAF approach on this and the IOC. If the IOC have made that clear, then that's their ruling. It's their championships."

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AP Sports Writer Eddie Pells in Denver contributed to this report.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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