Athletics: Christie drug test result was `covered up' by IAAF

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE'S positive doping test was deliberately covered up by the athletics authorities and may never have come to light if the news had not been leaked to a French newspaper, an International Amateur Athletic Federation insider admitted yesterday.

The result of the 39-year-old sprinter's test at Dortmund on 13 February was, the official acknowledged, kept out of the lists of doping cases published in the organisation's newsletter.

"We keep some cases confidential," he said. "Sometimes for years. This case was an example. There is no set rule about it. It is a matter of personality. It's politics."

The politics of Christie's case point up the double standards in the sport. The July IAAF newsletter listed Britain's 400m hurdler Gary Cadogan as being suspended pending a doping hearing. His test, like that of Christie's, had shown up metabolites of the banned steroid, nandrolone.

The July list was the second to come out after Christie's test, and contained two cases which followed tests in Germany in April and May.

Thus the name of the man whose greatest achievement in the sport was finishing fourth at the 1994 Commonwealth Games was released, and that of the former world and Olympic champion was not.

Dave Moorcroft, chief executive of UK Athletics, says he would prefer doping cases to remain confidential until an athlete is found guilty. But Cadogan's name was published, and Moorcroft's protestations were rebuffed as the IAAF asserted their right to release names.

The inference in Christie's case is that the decision to keep his name out of the public domain came from the top level of the IAAF. He is known to be held in high regard by the Federation's president, Primo Nebiolo, who tried unsuccessfully to gain him a late, wild card entry into a 1995 World Indoor Championships conspicuously lacking in star performers.

Christie was reported yesterday to have employed the leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman to fight his case. Bindman, who is involved in other high profile cases including the extradition of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, is likely to argue that testing conclusions regarding nandrolone are unreliable. Part of Christie's defence could also involve attempting to show that the adverse test came as a result of eating food treated with nandrolone.

Two years ago, Lenny Paul, the British bobsleigh team member who had trained as a sprinter with Christie, successfully defended himself after a nandrolone finding, claiming he had eaten spaghetti bolognese made from treated meat.

News of Christie's case was leaked to the French sports daily, L'Equipe, by a senior anti-doping official who disagreed with the IAAF's cover-up policy because he believed exposing big names is the greatest deterrent to drug-taking.

Information could become even more scarce if an American proposal to the IAAF Congress in Seville on 16-19 August is approved. The US authorities want the identity of athletes in doping cases to remain confidential until they are banned.

Christie's suspension was imposed in early March. He ran four races in Europe earlier this year, mainly to win a bet with some of the young athletes he coaches, such as Darren Campbell and Jamie Baulch, that he could still run 6.70sec for 60m. He won his bet. But the cost could yet be ruinous.

The BBC, for whom Christie works as a studio guest during athletics coverage and as a presenter of the children's programme Record Breakers, is considering his future position.

Christie, whom fellow athlete Derek Redmond once described as being "perfectly balanced - he's got a chip on both shoulders" has made a number of enemies throughout his career through his difficult and at times belligerent behaviour, particularly towards the media. That will not help him in his campaign. Nor will the Americans, with whose sprinters he conducted a fierce rivalry.

If the UK Athletics hearing clears him - and the likelihood of that looks considerable given that another committee exonerated European 200m champion Doug Walker last week after a similar test finding - the verdict will still have to be ratified by the IAAF.

But if the IAAF arbitration panel decides in Christie's favour there will be a furore within US Track and Field, which saw its decision to clear the sprinter Dennis Mitchell of testosterone abuse overturned by the IAAF earlier this week.

Kate Hoey, the new Sports Minister, yesterday called for UK Sport to carry out a review of its procedures.

In a letter to UK Sport's chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, she said its system is the "most thorough and rigorous in the world". But, she went on, "a review of procedures will help to identify those areas which can be developed."

Leading article, Review page 3; Pat Butcher, Review page 4