Athletics: Christie launches defence at drug hearing

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE yesterday faced a disciplinary panel to decide whether he committed a doping offence last February, when the former 100 metres world champion tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing, UK Athletics, the governing body of the sport in Britain, looks likely to face a lengthy and costly legal case. If Christie is banned for two years, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist is certain to fight to clear his name through the courts. Yet it also emerged yesterday that John McVicar, the former armed robber-turned-journalist who was sued by Christie in the High Court last year over allegations of drug use, is taking legal counsel over UK Athletics' handling of the case.

Sources close to the case were last night suggesting that the three-man panel - chaired by Sir Iain Mill QC, and assisted by Professor Ron Maughan, of Aberdeen University, and the former British team manager Dr Mike Turner - would reach the same conclusion as it did with Doug Walker.

Walker, the European 200m champion, tested positive last December for the same steroid as Christie. The panel decided that the substance was present inside the sprinter's body. This is normally enough for the athlete to be banned, but the panel added a rider in Walker's case, saying that it could not prove that the Edinburgh athlete had knowingly taken the substance.

This decision proved unacceptable to the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), which has referred Walker's case to arbitration. Christie's case looks certain to go down the same route. This would be an elegant solution for UK Athletics, since it would be absolved of the responsibilities which saw its predecessor, the British Athletic Federation, go broke, largely because of legal costs incurred in defending the Diane Modahl case.

In February this year, Christie competed in a 60m race at an indoor meeting in Dortmund. The former world No 1 sprinter, now aged 39, is still a big enough crowd-puller that he was paid around pounds 5,000 for that race, which he ran in a world-class time of 6.57sec. He was summoned for drug testing and the analysis of Christie's urine sample at the laboratory in Cologne discovered levels of nandrolone allegedly more than 100 times above the recognised amounts possible from "environmental" sources, such as contaminated meat.

On television, Christie has denied ever eating red meat (an explanation which the bobsleigh authorities accepted when Lenny Paul, a former training partner of Christie, tested positive for nandrolone in 1997) and says he never uses food supplements (as Doug Walker admitted), so his options for defence are unclear. However, among his witnesses was Dr John Honour, an endocrinologist from the Middlesex Hospital who has given evidence in the Modahl and Walker cases.

Christie's positive drug test was kept secret for six months, until details were leaked to a French newspaper last month. Yesterday, UK Athletics managed to continue the feeling of cloak-and-dagger. Despite earlier undertakings from the governing body to provide news of developments in Christie's case, the disciplinary panel gathered for its secret sessions yesterday morning at the offices of the Queen's solicitors, Farrer's & Co, to begin sifting through the evidence. There were even suggestions that, as well as considering the case against Christie, the panel also dealt with a nandrolone positive against another British athlete. However, this was denied by Jayne Pearce, a spokeswoman for UK Athletics. "We have no indication when a decision will be reached," Pearce said of the Christie case, adding that it was unlikely that an announcement would be made over the weekend.

It is the third time this summer that the pall of drugs has managed to hang over one of British Athletics' prestige meetings, with the CGU Challenge meeting, featuring Britain against the United States, being staged in Glasgow today.

"Our primary concern is the athlete, the secondary is PR," Pearce said. "We wanted to hold the hearing as speedily as possible, and at a time convenient for all parties." UK Athletics has yet to offer an explanation as to why the hearing was not held before the middle of June, as is required under its own rules.

It is because of concerns of a "cover-up" that McVicar is considering legal action against the governing body. "I want to put a challenge through the courts," McVicar said yesterday, claiming that UK Athletics had refused to answer his calls. "They are a publicly-funded body, acting secretly in a matter of public interest. They are not following their own rules."