Athletics: Drugs cast shadow over British athletics: Nation's reputation under threat as women face ban

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The Independent Online
THE simultaneous announcement of five positive drug tests by British athletes, and the looming possibility that one of the findings may debar Britain's women from the showpiece of the World Cup at Crystal Palace next month, has cast a pall over the week's achievements at the Commonwealth Games.

If the positive test returned by Diane Modahl on 18 June is confirmed by a second analysis, her subsequent 800 metres victory in the European Cup will be annulled, and Russia will take over the second qualifying place which Britain's women secured to such acclaim.

Yesterday Britain's sporting administrators were reduced to speculating on whether places in the European select team might be given over to some of our leading women as a face-saving - and ticket-selling - exercise. But it is Britain's face as a relatively clean athletic nation that is being called into question right now.

Since the Sports Council set up its doping control system in April 1988, Britain has claimed the moral high ground in this field.

It was Britain which operated a life ban for steroid abuse before being part-persuaded, part-coerced into falling in line with the International Amateur Athletic Federation's introduction of a four-year ban in 1991.

It was Britain that pushed the IAAF to extend the out- of-competition testing which it held was the key to dealing with drug abuse.

Now the country which has prided itself on leading the world in drug testing is giving the impression of leading the world in testing positive.

We are back to the old argument about crime figures. When they go up, does that mean there is more crime, or better policing?

'There is a problem in British athletics,' said Sir Arthur Gold, honorary president of the European Athletic Association and a lifelong campaigner against drugs. 'Drug abuse is still going on, and on what scale we can only guess.'

But is the British problem worse than others? Given that their domestic testing programme is more extensive than most - in 1993-94, a total of 3,946 Sports Council tests in all sports yielded 41 positive findings - and given that their athletes are as likely as anyone else to be random tested by the IAAF, the answer is surely: no.

There is a constant drip of positive tests from around the world. The IAAF drugs ban list for 1993, for instance, showed just one Briton amidst an atlasful of other nationalities. Among the women, Russia had seven positive tests, China and the Ukraine three each.

What has made things appear worse for Britain was the delay notifying the positive tests on Solomon Wariso and Modahl. It takes eight days, on average, for the Sport's Council to notify on a sample finding. Sadly for Britain, the process is not so swift elsewhere.

The delay in the Modahl case - notice given on 24 August, on the day she was to defend her Commonwealth 800m title, from a test carried out in Portugal on June 18 - has made those within the British Athletic Federation particularly angry. But it is not clear to whom they can complain. The Portuguese Federation, who carried out the test and communicated the result? The European Athletic Association, at whose permit meeting the test took place? The IAAF, under whose aegis the whole operation took place?

The IAAF spokesman, Christopher Winner, accepted yesterday that the delay in the Modahl notification had been 'unfortunate'. He said that the testing infrastructure had not kept pace with the wordlwide spread of testing. 'We are victims of our own success,' he said. Discussions are now under way within the IAAF to do away with B-sample testing altogether.

A further disquieting light was shed on the confusion yesterday by Tony Ward, the British press officer, who said that a Russian official at the Goodwill Games last month had told British team officials that the Russian women would be competing at the World Cup because of a pending positive test on a British athlete . . .

Peter Radford, BAF's executive chairman, says Britain still leads the world in drug testing. But it is a dirty old war it is fighting in.