AP Sources: IOC, USOC to seek ruling on doping ban

U.S. and international Olympic officials plan to go to the

highest court in sports over an anti-doping rule that could prevent

American runner LaShawn Merritt from defending his 400-meter title

at the 2012 London Games.

The International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee

are nearing agreement on jointly asking the Court of Arbitration

for Sport for a definitive ruling on one of the key elements of the

IOC’s anti-doping program, officials with direct knowledge of the

situation told The Associated Press.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the

discussions are still ongoing.

Both sides want CAS to make a ruling as early as possible to

avoid last-minute confusion and legal wrangling in the months and

weeks before the Olympics start on July 27, 2012. The decision will

be closely watched as a test case that could affect other


At issue is the IOC rule that bars any athlete with a doping

suspension of at least six months from competing in the next

Olympics. The rule was approved by the IOC in 2007 and went into

force just ahead of the 2008 Beijing Games.

Critics claim the rule amounts to a second punishment and

doesn’t withstand legal scrutiny. The IOC says it is not a sanction

but an eligibility issue, and the Olympic body determines who can

participate in its event.

Merritt, winner of the 400 meters in Beijing and world champion

in 2009, received a 21-month suspension last year after testing

positive for a banned substance found in a male enhancement


His penalty was reduced from the usual two-year suspension

because he cooperated with authorities and was found to not have

taken the drug to enhance athletic performance.

Merritt’s ban expires in July, meaning he can return to

international competition, including possibly at the world

championships in Daegu, South Korea. However, Merritt would be

ineligible to compete in London under the IOC rule.

The American Arbitration Association panel that banned Merritt

contested the IOC rule, saying it goes against the World

Anti-Doping Agency code and would essentially extend his ban to

three years.

If Merritt were to qualify for London at the U.S. Olympic trials

next year, it would leave the USOC and IOC in a tricky position.

That’s why the parties would like to settle the case soon.

CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said the court had not yet

received any appeal or request for arbitration, but said it would

make sense for the issue to be resolved there.

”Because this rule seems to be so difficult to apply for

certain cases, I think it’s much better to have a ruling from CAS

way in advance of the Olympic Games to avoid a sort of quick

decision three weeks prior to the deadline for the registration of

athletes,” Reeb told the AP.

”So we have time to organize a proper procedure during the year

and to have a final ruling which would be applicable to all

athletes. I think many other athletes could be concerned, not only

the U.S. athlete. It would be a good test case.”

Also affected could be American swimmer Jessica Hardy, who

missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics after testing positive for

clenbuterol. She was found to have unknowingly taken the banned

agent in a contaminated food supplement and her two-year suspension

was reduced to one.

IOC vice president Thomas Bach, who heads the IOC’s juridical

commission, defended the rule at an executive board meeting in


”We made it clear from the very beginning that it is not a

sanction,” Bach said. ”It is a condition of participation. The

IOC is governing the Olympic Games and has the right to put

conditions for participation.”