Updated: Tuesday, 21st November 2017 @ 7:00pm

Inside Sport: David Millar, Rule 25 and the Olympics

Inside Sport: David Millar, Rule 25 and the Olympics

By Jack Travers

Cycling’s journey from a relatively minor sport in the UK to one of the nation’s fastest growing sports today has not happened overnight.

There has been years and years of hard work from men such as Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance Director, and it has been this hard graft and extensive planning that has been the key.

However, there are a number of figures, athletes themselves, who have helped speed up this process. There is no faster way to promote a sport than victory at the highest level and men such as Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and most recently Mark Cavendish, have had success over the past few years that most professionals need a career to achieve, if they get there at all.

One name is missing from this list and he is a man who on the road has achieved a massive amount over the past decade, a man who once upon a time was feted as one of cycling’s potential greats.

David Millar is the only Brit ever to have worn all four of the jerseys at cycling’s pre-eminent event – the Tour de France. He is also the only Brit to have led at some stage all three of cycling’s Grand Tours. These are no mean feats, the kind of achievements that make cyclists on the continent national heroes.

However, the reason that Millar became infamous rather than famous is because in 2004, at the height of his fame and powers, he was arrested for doping and eventually admitted to it. He was given a two year ban from the sport and lost his job as team leader at Cofidis.

Fast forward eleven years to last September. In Copenhagen Millar, who has resurrected his career, is in the saddle as the team leader for Great Britain in the road race at the World Championships. He has always been respected for his ability and since he returned from his ban, he has tried to do everything in his power to make cycling a cleaner sport.  

But, he remains an extremely controversial figure, particularly this year as the London Olympics loom ever closer. He may not be attracting the headlines to himself - like Dwain Chambers he just wants to compete with no controversy - but the headlines are being written nonetheless, and this is for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the International Olympic Committee had a by-law called Rule 45. It basically said no athlete who has been given a drugs ban of six months or more can participate in the next Olympic Games. Late last year this by-law was deemed to be unenforceable by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as it was seen to be effectively punishing an athlete twice for the same crime. The American LaShawn Merritt, the reigning Olympic 400m champion, was the athlete who led the charge for Rule 45 to get overturned.

But how does this implicate Millar? The British Olympic Association have their own by-law, Rule 25. This is unique to the BOA and says that no athlete convicted of a doping offence can ever represent GB at the Olympics again. After Rule 45 was overturned, the World Anti-Doping Agency are trying to force the BOA to remove Rule 25. The case is due to be heard soon at CAS and if they deem Rule 25 to be illegal, Millar may be able to ride in this year’s Olympics.

This is where his potential Olympic team mates Wiggins and Cavendish have a difference of opinion and where this story took an interesting turn this week.

The two men are now together at Team Sky, the British pro cycling outfit who in this year’s Tour de France are looking to deliver Cavendish to Paris in a green jersey and Wiggins in yellow – a feat not achieved by any team since 1996.

The three men were among the key players in the World Championship road race which resulted in Cavendish winning gold, one of cycling’s greatest and most coveted prizes.

Cavendish, a close friend of Millar, wants him in the Olympic team. He thinks Millar has redeemed himself through his tireless anti-doping campaigning and he also thinks Millar will be crucial to the chances of GB winning gold as they did in Copenhagen.

Wiggins agrees that Millar is a key cog in the machine regarding achieving Olympic gold but said to the BBC this week that from a moral standpoint he should never be able to cycle in the Olympics again.

It would be wrong to think this will cause a ruckus in the GB and Team Sky camps as all three men want to think about the cycling and not the drugs debates that come with the territory. However, it is a dividing subject and will remain a talking point until CAS judge one way or the other.

Where any individual stands on the issue has a lot to do with their idea of what the Olympics are about. Participation or success?

The games are proud of their ideology where co-operation, friendship and the exclusion of discrimination are key. The games are not all about winning but as Pierre De Coubetin, the founder of the modern games liked to say, the taking part is more important.

The argument that those who once forgot those ideals do not deserve to compete in the Olympics again is a strong one. It sends the message that the Olympics is pure and those who have jeopardized this will pay the price and be made an example of.

The fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency, the body responsible for the fight against drug cheats, are the people trying to force the BOA’s hand to remove Rule 25 is ironic and not in a funny way. It sends out completely the wrong message. They should be the ones trying to get the other nations to adopt similar selection rules, not force Britain to soften its hard-line anti-drugs stance.

Millar, as previously mentioned, is arguably the busiest anti-drugs campaigner in the professional peleton. He has been honest and candid about his past and he has gone a long way to righting those wrongs.

Allowing him to ride under Great Britain’s flag in the World Championships and other international events is absolutely right as he has done and continues to do everything in his power to publicise the immorality of cheating. Dwain Chambers is the same in the sprinting division.

However, the Olympics, even if not as prestigious a prize in the world of cycling, is more than these other championships. It is a beacon of light in an often dark world where people will do anything to win.

That is why the BOA should be proud of their fight to maintain Rule 25 – because they are sending the message that the Olympics is different and although winning Olympic gold is a career highlight for almost any athlete, doing it while buying into the Olympic ideals is even more important.