TORONTO — As of Sept. 24, 1990, two years after he tested positive for an anabolic steroid at the Seoul Olympics, Ben Johnson will be eligible to compete in track and field, according to International Amateur Athletic Federation rules.
But the question of whether he will be allowed to represent Canada in competitions such as the Olympics, World Championships, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games is a source of confusion.
Canada's sports minister, Jean Charest, has banned Johnson for life from representing the country. But Richard Pound, an International Olympic Committee vice president from Montreal, contended that Charest does not have that power.
Ultimately, Pound said, the decision belongs to the Canadian Olympic Assn. and the Canadian Track and Field Assn.
A spokesman for the COA, Frank Ratcliffe, said the letter of the law supports Pound. But Ratcliffe cautioned that Charest might ultimately prevail because of the federal government's financial contributions to the COA and to the CTFA.
"He could cut off funding for the COA and the CTFA," said Ratcliffe, noting that the government supplies 8% to 10% of the COA's budget. "We (the COA) wouldn't welcome that, but it wouldn't kill us. The CTFA would be killed. The only possible result is that they wouldn't nominate him for an international team."
There is a possibility, however, that Charest will soften his stance after reading the recommendation of Charles L. Dubin, commissioner of the federal government's inquiry into drug use by athletes. Johnson is expected to testify in June as part of the investigation.
"(Charest) is going to be open to the recommendation of the Dubin Commission," said Rick Paradis, a spokesman in the minister's office. "Until the report is submitted, why speculate any further?"
If Johnson cannot represent Canada in the Olympics, IOC rules would allow him to compete for Jamaica, where he was born and lived until he was 14. COA approval would be required, but COA President Dr. Roger Jackson indicated that would not be a problem.
The Jamaican track and field association, however, passed a rule in January that would prohibit Johnson or any other athlete from the island who has tested positive for banned substances from competing for Jamaica.
Further legislation involving Johnson might result from the IAAF Congress in September at Barcelona, Spain.
Cecil Smith, executive director of the Ontario Track and Field Assn., said he will urge the IAAF, which governs track and field, to have Johnson's world record of 9.83 in the 100 meters set at Rome in 1987 removed from the record books if it can be proved that he used banned substances before that performance. Testimony before the Dubin Commission has suggested that Johnson used a drug four hours before the race.
John Holt, IAAF secretary general, has said an asterisk might be placed next to the record. Smith said that would not satisfy him.
"We have to protect athletes of the future," he said. "We have to send them a message that we're doing all we can to guarantee that the records they aspire to are clean."