Athletics: IAAF `exasperated' by Britain's drugs stance

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY MAY go down as a dark day for international athletics, the day when three Olympic gold medallists, headed by Linford Christie, were accused of using banned drugs, and when the reputation for fair play and honesty of the sport in Britain was further mired with the announcement by the world governing body of a positive drug test from nearly six months ago on the promising shot-putter Carl Myerscough.

Christie, Javier Sotomayor, of Cuba, and Germany's Dieter Baumann all won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Yesterday all three were reunited for the worst of reasons. Sotomayor - the high jump world record holder who tested positive for cocaine at the Pan-American Games in July but was cleared by the Cuban federation - is also to face the International Amateur Athletic Federation arbitration hearing, as is Baumann, who tested positive, like Christie, for the banned steroid nandrolone.

The announcement by the IAAF that Christie will now have to plead his case before an arbitration panel, probably early next year, confirmed a procedure which had been widely anticipated.

Less predictable was the condemnation of UK Athletics' drugs policy by Professor Arne Ljungqvist, the IAAF's new senior vice-president and chairman of their doping commission, who said he was "exasperated" with Britain, whose approach to positive drug tests "has been less than satisfactory". Implicit in the Ljungqvist criticism and a statement from the IAAF general secretary, Istvan Gyulai, was that UK Athletics was failing to uphold the sport's anti-drugs rules.

Christie, the former world and Olympic 100m champion, tested positive after an indoor meeting in Dortmund last February. Christie has maintained his innocence, and a UK Athletics hearing in September failed to find "beyond reasonable doubt" that he had committed an offence, a decision similar to those reached in the nandrolone cases involving the British sprinter Doug Walker and the 400m hurdler Gary Cadogan. Walker's case is already awaiting a date for an arbitration hearing, and yesterday Cadogan, together with Israel's Itai Margalit, was also referred to arbitration by the IAAF's ruling council.

In Germany yesterday, the news broke that Baumann, the 5,000m Olympic champion in 1992, had also tested positive for nandrolone. Baumann, 34, tested positive twice, on 19 October and again on 12 November, and DLV, the German federation, announced his suspension yesterday, pending a hearing.

"We have strict rules in Germany," Helmut Digel, the head of DLV, said. "We ban our athletes when caught for doping where other countries protect their athletes."

Digel may have had Britain in mind. In April, the IAAF had to step in to suspend Christie after UK Athletics had allowed him to compete for money in Australia over the Easter weekend. The world body moved in again yesterday with the announcement of the suspension of an athlete following the apparent inaction of UK Athletics, who allowed Myerscough to be picked in the British team for last summer's European Under-23 Championships two months after he failed a drugs test for two anabolic steroids and testosterone.

Myerscough has the potential to become Britain's biggest shot-put star since Geoff Capes, but following an out-of-competition test on 28 May, the 20-year-old was found positive for methandienione and oxymetholone, plus adverse levels of the body-building hormone testosterone.

Dave Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, expressed his surprise at the IAAF's announcement in the Myerscough case, saying, "It would have been sorted very shortly," while admitting: "I agree with the IAAF that it has taken too long to resolve." It is understood that part of the delay in the case was due to a medical consideration, and that UK Athletics had planned a hearing for next week.

Yet it is just the latest instance of UK Athletics being seen to be dilatory and protective of British athletes. On the IAAF decision to call arbitration hearings for Christie and Cadogan, Moorcroft said: "It does not come as any surprise. But we are endorsing the decisions of our disciplinary panel and we shall be playing an active role in defending it."

The message from the IAAF last night, however, was that they might well be defending the indefensible. "We think that UK Athletics reached an erroneous conclusion," Ljungqvist said. "We have to show only the existence in the body of something that is not allowed, and this has been shown."