Can Dwain Chambers Successfully Challenge the Life Time Ban on Competing in the Olympics Imposed on Him for a Doping Offence?

The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2008 | Go to article overview

Can Dwain Chambers Successfully Challenge the Life Time Ban on Competing in the Olympics Imposed on Him for a Doping Offence?


Introductory

British Sprinter Dwain Chambers was suspended in 2003 from competition for two years by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after testing positive for the banned steroid THB. Having served his ban, this elite athlete has returned to competition and now has his sights set on competing in the Olympics--the pinnacle of every sports person's career and dream. See the author's related article entitled, 'Dwain Chambers and his Quest for Rehabilitation'. But Chambers faces an uphill task in achieving his dream. Because under the rules of the British Olympic Association (BOA), any athlete who is banned for a doping offence by his/her sports governing body is also banned for life from competing in the Olympics. The only way he can do so is to successfully challenge this ban in the Courts and get it overturned. But this is easier said than done. There are a number of legal hurdles to be overcome.

The General Attitude of the English Courts to Sports Disputes

In England, there is a long established legal tradition that the Courts do not generally intervene in sports disputes. They prefer to leave matters to be settled by the sports bodies themselves, considering them to be in the words of Vice Chancellor Megarry in the case of McInnes v. Onslow-Fane ([1978] 1 WLR 1520, at p 1535) "...... far better fitted to judge than courts." And, Lord Denning MR went further and expressed the point in the following succinct and characteristic way in Enderby Town Football Club Ltd v. Football Association Ltd ([1971] 1 Ch 591, at p 605): "...... justice can often be done in domestic tribunals better by a good layman than a bad lawyer." However, the English Courts will intervene when there has been a breach of the rules of natural justice (Revie v. Football Association, The Times, 19 December 1979) and also in cases of 'restraint of trade', where livelihoods are at stake (Greig v. Insole, [1978] 3 All ER 449).

Incidentally, a similar situation obtains in the United States (see Harding v United States Figure Skating Association [1994] 851 F Supp 1476).

The 'Restraint of Trade' Doctrine

What is meant by a 'restraint of trade'?

A 'restraint of trade' is a restriction that prevents a person from earning his/her living and is generally void. This doctrine in its current form evolved during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the Courts began to pursue a general policy of enforcing the right of every person to work and offer their services without any restriction.

Lord Macnaghten expressed the doctrine in the case of Nordenfelt v. Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Amminition Co Ltd ([1894] AC 535, at p 565) in the following terms:

"The public have an interest in every person's carrying on his trade freely: so has the individual. All interference with individual liberty in action in trading, and all restraints in themselves, if there is nothing more, are contrary to public policy, and therefore void. That is the general rule. But there are exceptions; restraints of trade and interference with individual liberty of action may be justified by the special circumstances of a particular case. It is sufficient justification, and indeed, it is the only justification, if the restriction is reasonable ...... reasonable that is, in the interests of the public, so framed and so guarded as to afford adequate protection to the party in whose favour it is imposed, while at the same time it is in no way injurious to the public."

It will be seen from the above judicial statement of the Common Law doctrine of 'restraint of trade' that Chambers will need to satisfy the High Court that the lifetime ban imposed on him by the BOA is unreasonable; does not serve any purpose/interest meriting protection; and is contrary to the public interest.

Examining these elements in turn. For a first doping offence, for which the offender has served his time of two years out of competition, a life time ban prima facie is disproportionate. …

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