Athletics: Modahl wins interim clearance

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Diane Modahl has been told she can compete wherever she pleases while her successful domestic appeal against a doping ban awaits final judgment by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. But any rising hopes the 29-year-old Sale Harrier might have of competing for Britain in this summer's Olympics must be tempered by the mixed signals she is receiving from the world governing body.

An IAAF spokesman said yesterday that the three-man arbitration panel would meet "within the next two weeks to consider Modahl's case".

Modahl, however, received a faxed message yesterday afternoon from the IAAF lawyer, Mark Gay, saying that the logistics of the case made it "highly unlikely" that arbitration would be scheduled in January.

"We still have no idea when the panel will meet," Modahl's husband and coach, Vicente, said yesterday. "It could be March. It could be August."

If the panel finds against the British 800 metres runner, the four-year ban which was overturned last autumn after the appeal to the British Athletic Federation will be reimposed.

An IAAF spokesman said yesterday that Modahl had been free to run ever since her successful appeal "because there is nothing in the IAAF rules to say that she can't". He added: "Her situation is very simple."

It appeared anything but simple to Vincente Modahl yesterday. Although he welcomed the news - which came informally via the IAAF lawyer in response to a journalist's enquiry - he was mystified over why such an apparent change of position had occurred.

"I spoke to the IAAF secretary, Istvan Gyulai, in October and he told me then that Diane would have to wait until arbitration before she would know whether she could compete abroad," he said.

"The IAAF have never allowed any athlete to compete pending arbitration before. Although we knew at the time that this was not in their rules, how the IAAF acts and the rules are two different things."

The IAAF rules on eligibility of athletes as they negotiate appeals against doping bans are clearly open to interpretation. The IAAF line has always been that athletes with domestic judgments in their favour may compete domestically, but are obliged to await international judgment before taking part in events abroad.

Tony Ward, spokesman for the BAF, said: "Since the appeal it has always been the case that Diane has been able to run here. We are a bit surprised it has come out like this, but we are nevertheless delighted for Diane."

In the last six years athletes such as Butch Reynolds, Katrin Krabbe and John Ngugi have been told they cannot run internationally pending arbitration on doping offences.

Admittedly, there is no exact parallel with Modahl, who is disputing a finding of massive testosterone levels in a urine sample she gave in June 1994.