That horse bolted a long time ago, pulling Michael Vick, Ben Cousins, Wayne Rooney and Tiger Woods behind it. But if the Olympics wants to be different – the high virtue of elite sport is part of its pitch – Dwain Chambers, a drug cheat, and Nick D’Arcy, a thug, shouldn’t be allowed inside the tent.
In 2003, Chambers, one of Britain’s finest ever track sprinters, tested positive for THG, a banned performance-enhancing drug. He was disqualified for two years from all athletics and barred from the Olympics for life. It was curtains for him. Fair enough, too. There should be no place for cheats at the Olympics. However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week overturned that ban, meaning Chambers is free to compete, should he qualify.
Meanwhile, Swimming Australia has been forced to defend itself against accusations it cut a deal with Nick D’Arcy, who was dumped from the team for the 2008 Olympics after he violently assaulted one of his teammates, Simon Cowley, who was left with serious facial injuries. A court ordered D’Arcy to pay Cowley a six-figure damages claim – instead, he declared bankruptcy. And now, D’Arcy is on his way to London, with a real chance to win a medal in the 200m butterfly.
Jingoism is never in short supply at the Olympics and we are told that we are meant to be proud of those representing their countries. How many Australians will feel a sense of pride if and when they see Nick D’Arcy on a podium, draped in the flag?
It’s unreasonable to expect all sportsmen to be model citizens. The public is not entitled to demand that and, quite simply, it’s not sensible. But if the Olympics is to distinguish itself from other sports – somehow purer, less tainted by the compromises of the professional era, enriching an audience of millions – then the competitors must be held to an accordingly high standard. Otherwise, the Olympics’ claim to uniqueness unravels.
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