LONDON - The British Olympic Association conceded for the first time Monday that athlete support for its lifetime doping ban has significantly declined ahead of a hearing that will determine the sanction's future.

BOA chairman Colin Moyinhan has consistently maintained that at least 90 percent of British Olympians supported world sport's toughest sanction for doping cheats. But now Moyinhan acknowledges that support dropped to 70 percent in a recent poll of athletes.

Backing for the bylaw in Britain has waned since the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year overturned an IOC rule barring any athlete who has received a doping suspension of more than six months from competing in the next Olympics. Marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe was one of the first leading Olympians to publicly change their stance, announcing in an Associated Press interview that the BOA ban now unfairly penalizes compatriots like sprinter Dwain Chambers.

Chambers, who served a two-year ban after testing positive for THG in 2003, could be the main beneficiary of the arbitration hearing in two weeks which will determine whether Britain can remain the only country that enforces a lifetime ban for doping cheats.

"A recent poll showed 70 percent in favor (of the bans ) and 12 percent don't knows," Moyinhan said. "If it is 70 percent or more then we are very pleased."

Britain could be forced to drop the rule ahead of the London Olympics if it loses its court case, with a verdict expected to be issued in April after the March 12 hearing in London.

The BOA filed an appeal to the sport court, challenging a decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to declare the British body "noncompliant" with the global anti-doping code because the 20-year-old rule amounted to a second punishment. The BOA maintains its bylaw is an eligibility issue.