POSTED: August 5th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Athletics must show action and not words over allegations

Doping allegations coming from the Sunday Times and ARD rocked international sport this past week / Bigstock
Doping allegations coming from the Sunday Times and ARD rocked international sport this past week / Bigstock

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

The news that there were about 800 suspicious readings in blood tests for some of the world's leading athletes, including the winners of 55 gold medals, particularly in the middle and long distance events, has shocked, if not entirely surprised, many observers of the sport.

The first thing that must be emphasised is that suspicious readings do not mean that the athletes themselves are guilty of malpractice, either through taking drugs or through blood doping. However, the independent experts, who examined the evidence produced jointly by The Sunday Times and ARD, the German television channel, clearly felt that some of the readings were exceptional.

And what is clear is that the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) has to disclose how it investigated all these irregularities and if it didn't, as seems highly likely, why it didn't. It is all very well for the IAAF, whose world championships in Beijing this month will be overshadowed by this controversy, to say that the data base consists of "private and confidential medical data, which has been obtained without consent." 

But this is just blaming the messenger. What is needed is a full explanation as to why no action was taken. Many of the abnormal readings may be due to training at altitude or illness. Athletics is already under scrutiny because following an earlier documentary by ARD. Dick Pound, the founder President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), is investigating the allegations that Russian authorities colluded in their athletes avoiding being banned for taking drugs.

Pound has said that if these most recent set of allegations are true then the sport faces a "major crisis. It is indeed similar to the one that engulfed cycling with the series of positive tests, climaxing with the admission by Lance Armstrong that he took drugs during his seven victories in the Tour de France. Pound's investigation should now be extended to include this latest set of allegations.

Lamina Diack, who steps down as IAAF President in Beijing, has told the BBC:"I believe that the IAAF has always shown that it is absolutely aware that it cannot allow doubts about the performances accomplished by athletes." Well, there are certainly some doubts now.

And both Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka, who are vying to be his successor, have been quick to say that there will be a "robust and detailed response" (Coe) and "zero tolerance" (Bubka). So there should be.

Most of the leading countries in the sport are involved in these allegations but particularly Russia, whose record for positive tests in recent years is already appalling. The first three finishers in the 1,500 metres at the 2005 World Championships are named in these recent allegations- Tatyana Tomashova, Olga Yegorova and Yulia Chizhenko-Fomenko. All three were then banned in 2008 for manipulating drug samples.

Kenya, the world's No.1 power in middle and long distance running, has also been the target for allegations about the conduct of their athletes and officials. It states that it is taking legal action against ARD. As its defence, it can scarcely threaten otherwise.

This is not pretty picture for athletics and if Lord Coe, as is likely, gets the IAAF Presidency, then he will have a huge task on his hands to restore credibility to the sport. There is no one better to do so. He has been a constant campaigner against drug-taking throughout his career as athlete and administrator.

He has also shown both immense determination and leadership qualities when he chaired London's successful staging of the 2012 Olympics. Should he get elected to the IAAF post, he will find his new job almost as taxing as his previous role.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · Athletics · Doping · IAAF

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