London - The British Olympic Association (BOA) appealed to sport's highest court on Tuesday to defend its "lifetime ban" for doping, saying it has the backing of the "overwhelming majority" of British athletes to keep drug cheats out of the games.
The BOA filed a formal appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), challenging a decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to declare the British body "noncompliant" with global doping rules.
The BOA said both sides agreed that CAS is the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute and hope for a decision before the end of April 2012.
WADA declared last month that the BOA's lifetime rule amounted to a second sanction and failed to comply with the World Anti-Doping Code. The BOA maintains its bylaw is an eligibility issue, not a sanction.
"The overwhelming majority of British Olympic athletes, present and past, ... continue to express their unwavering support for the selection policy and have encouraged the BOA to vigorously defend it," the BOA said in a statement.
"The BOA and British Olympic athletes do not consider that those who have deliberately cheated should represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games," BOA chairman Colin Moynihan said.
Britain wants a ruling well in advance of the London Games, which start on July 27.
"We appreciate the opportunity to appear before CAS and explain why our selection policy is entirely consistent with the Olympic Charter, and why it is essential for National Olympic Committees to have the autonomy and independence to determine their own selection policies," Moynihan said.
Britain is the only country that enforces lifetime Olympic bans for doping offenders. The BOA was the only national Olympic committee found in noncompliance by WADA, an embarrassment for the host nation of next year's games.
Compliance with the WADA code is mandatory under IOC rules. The ultimate sanction for failing to comply is exclusion from the Olympics.
The IOC has stressed that Britain's national anti-doping agency, UK Anti-Doping, is "fully compliant" and there was no risk to athletes from the 2012 host nation.
"The BOA selection policy is a direct expression of the commitment British athletes have made to uphold the values of fair play, integrity and clean competition - values that are at the heart of Olympic sport," Moynihan said.
The BOA said it has received expressions of support from various groups, including the International Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission.
"The presence of athletes who deliberately cheat within Team GB would damage team morale, atmosphere and cohesiveness," the BOA said. "It would also damage the credibility and reputation of the team in the eyes of the athletes and the public."
The BOA policy was introduced in 1992 and has been in place for the past nine Olympics.
Among British athletes currently covered by the ban are sprinter Dwain Chambers, who served a two-year ban in the BALCO scandal, and cyclist David Millar, who was suspended for two years after testing positive for EPO.
Athletes have a right to appeal the ban.
"The process ensures that only athletes who deliberately cheat are ineligible for selection," the BOA said.
The BOA said the IOC recently reaffirmed in writing that every national Olympic body has the right to determine its own eligibility standards for the games.
Last week, IOC vice president Thomas Bach backed the BOA and said the case involved "overcompliance" rather than any failure to adhere to the rules.
The BOA's regulation came under scrutiny after CAS threw out the IOC rule in October that bars athletes who have received drug bans of more than six months from competing in the next games. CAS said the rule amounted to double jeopardy and wasn't part of the WADA code.
That ruling cleared the way for American 400m runner LaShawn Merritt - who completed a 21-month doping ban in July - to defend his Olympic title in London next year.
The IOC plans to push for the rule to be written into the revised WADA code that will be up for ratification in 2013.