* Lawyer says legal action possible
* U.S. governing body considers bending its rules
* Current USATF bylaw would preclude his running
(recasts with lawyer's comments)
By Gene Cherry
SALVO, North Carolina, Jan 28 Disgraced Olympic
and world 400 metres champion LaShawn Merritt may take legal
action if USA Track & Field (USATF) does not allow him to
compete in this year's world championships, his lawyer said on
Merritt's 21-month doping suspension is scheduled to end on
July 27, a month ahead of the world championships in Daegu,
South Korea, but a month after the U.S. trials in Eugene,
As the reigning world champion, Merritt would normally be an
automatic qualifier for the world championships with the U.S.
trials determining the other three American 400 metres
However, a USATF bylaw requires all athletes to compete in
the U.S. world championship trials to be considered for the
"Should USATF violate the binding arbitration (in Merritt's
doping case) ... and attempt to preclude LaShawn Merritt from
competing at the 2011 world championships, the matter would then
unfortunately have to be resolved through the legal system,"
Howard Jacobs, Merritt's lawyer, said in an email to Reuters.
The arbitration ruling denies the USATF and other governing
bodies the right to exclude Merritt from events after his period
of ineligibility expires if the reason for his exclusion would
be related to his anti-doping rule violation, Jacobs said.
Since Merritt's participation at Daegu would not affect
other U.S. runners, "it is difficult to understand the logic
under which USATF would defy the binding arbitration," Jacobs
USATF officials said earlier on Friday they were considering
bending their rules so Merritt could compete.
"Our question is, do we want to set ourselves up to create a
precedent by allowing him to run," USATF president Stephanie
Hightower told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"I am a strong believer in rules are rules. But as
circumstances and situations change, my philosophy is that you
keep an open mind."
The International Association of Athletics Federations
(IAAF) said the issue was entirely up to the USATF to decide.
"The 'wild card' IAAF rule clearly states that they
(defending champions) are eligible only with the agreement of
the national athletics federation," spokesman Nick Davies said
in an email to Reuters.
"So if the U.S. was to insist on participation (in the
American trials), he would not be able to compete in Daegu, even
as a wild card," Davies said.
Merritt was suspended in 2010 after he tested positive for a
banned substance he said was found in a male enhancement
His participation in the 2012 London Olympics already is
An International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule prohibits
athletes with doping suspensions of six or more months from
competing in the next Olympics.
But the U.S. panel of arbitrators who suspended Merritt said
the rule could not be used to prevent him from competing in the
2012 U.S. Olympic trials or Olympic Games.
The IOC disagrees and the case is expected to make its way
to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for a final ruling.
"We continue to work behind the scenes in support of a
resolution as quickly as possible," U.S. Olympic Committee
(USOC) spokesman Patrick Sandusky told Reuters.
(Editing by Julian Linden and Peter Rutherford. To query or
comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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