LONDON (REUTERS) - To athletics fans around the world wondering just how double-doper Justin Gatlin could be shortlisted for the IAAF's athlete of the year award, the unpalatable answer is, that the American having served his bans, the governing body had no real choice.
Gatlin's stellar year of sprinting, when he posted six of the fastest 100 metres times with his 9.77sec run in Brussels last month the fastest-ever by an over-30, made the 32-year-old an automatic inclusion the 10-man list.
"Gatlin, as an eligible athlete who has had a great season is, logically, also eligible for consideration for the Athlete of the Year contest in the absence of any bylaw to prevent that happening," an IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.
However, fellow nominee Robert Harting felt so strongly about the former Olympic champion's inclusion that he asked to be removed from the list.
The German world and Olympic discus champion wants previously-banned athletes to be prevented from being nominated and said he would not be involved with this year's award so long as Gatlin remained on the list.
IAAF vice-president Sebastian Coe also said this week that he was not happy about Gatlin's inclusion but recognised that the rules allowed it.
"The only thing I would say is he is entitled to compete; but I'm not particularly comfortable about it," said Coe, the former double Olympic 1,500m champion who has worked hard within the IAAF to restore four-year bans for doping.
Gatlin won Olympic 100m gold in 2004 and the 100m/200m world championship double in 2005 after returning from a one-year ban for testing positive for a stimulant in 2001.
In 2006 he failed a second test, for testosterone, which should have led to a lifetime ban, later reduced to eight and then four years.
Gatlin returned to action in 2010 and took bronze behind Usain Bolt in the 100m and a 4x100m relay silver in the 2012 Olympics in London.
This season he has been in magnificent form in both 100m and 200m and his 19.68 in Monaco in July remained the fastest 200 metres time of the year.
He is by no means the only former drugs cheat back plying his or her trade at the top level of athletics and three other 2012 100m finalists have also served time for doping offences.
Consequently the IAAF had little choice, based on performances, but to include him on the list.
Indeed, his compatriot LaShawn Merritt, the former Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion who served a 21-month doping ban from 2010, is also included.
Harting sits on the Athletes' Council but said he would not continue if the current situation remained unchanged. "I am ready to stand for election again but only if athletes who have misbehaved are scrapped from this year's list and are subject of a general nomination ban in the future," he told German media.
It is too late for any such change to affect this year's award, which will be announced on Nov 21.
However, the IAAF does have a by-law that prohibits convicted dopers from being elected to its Hall of Fame and the Athletes' Commission is likely to press for a similar rule to be introduced for the Athlete of the Year award from next year.