Athletics: Walker cleared of drug charge

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The Independent Online
DOUG WALKER, the Scottish sprinter who faced a two year ban for doping abuse, received an ideal 26th birthday present yesterday when he was cleared of all charges by a UK Athletics disciplinary committee.

The three-man panel, chaired by Ian Mill QC, gave permission for the European 200 metres champion to resume his career after spending two days considering the details of an out-of-competition urine test on 1 December which indicated metabolites of the banned steroid, Nandrolone.

Walker has always claimed to have been baffled by the test finding, and his lawyer, Nick Bitel, has asserted that his client had "never knowingly taken an illegal substance".

Full details of the scientific evidence which lead the committee to its decision are expected to emerge at a press conference in London this morning, where Walker will sit alongside the UK Athletics chief executive, Dave Moorcroft.

When news leaked of Walkers situation in January, he and his advisers spoke about the possibility that one of the legal protein supplements he took may have produced a rogue result. More recently, Bitel was investigating the case of a French triathlete who was cleared by an Olympic Court of Arbitration after claiming successfully that a Nandrolone finding had been caused naturally - by the vigorous exercise he had taken immediately preceding his test.

Although Walker, who lives in Edinburgh, was not immediately available for comment, the news was greeted with understandable glee. Jayne Pearce, spokesperson for UK Athletics, said that her organisation was "delighted" that Walker had been acquitted.

David Joy, chief executive of the Scottish Athletics Federation said: "Everybody concerned with Scottish Athletics has believed in Doug, believed that he would not knowingly have taken a banned substance and they have been proved right."

Walker indicated earlier this week that he would be unlikely to try and run in next month's world championships assuming he won his case, although a place is still open in Britain's 200m team until 10 August.

Joy said that Walker had been training "extremely hard" since the news of his case had broken, and had continued to do so after a preliminary enquiry by UK Athletics had concluded at the end of March that he had a case to answer.

"Doug and his coach now need to look at what they can do in the rest of this season," Joy said. "But to have Doug back in the team - he is our captain, our ambassador - is the best news we could possibly have hoped for."

Although Walker, who carried the Scottish flag at last year's Commonwealth Games, may not feel ready for Seville next month, he is expected to be asked today whether he will consider running at the British Grand Prix on 7 August and the meeting at Glasgow.

There were darker possibilities attending yesterday's decision. Walker has faced an extreme ordeal in the last eight months, something that was clearly evident by his demeanour at a press conference following the decision in March regarding his case. In tears at more than one point in the proceedings, Walker looked completely bemused and crushed by what he was undergoing. Asked if he would consider fighting on if the decision of the disciplinary committee went against him he hinted that he would probably not bother, pointing out that he did not have enough money to pay for the legal fees.

He may well now consider seeking compensation, although UK Athletics has pursued the case in a sympathetic manner. They are intensely aware of the continuing pounds 500,000 law suit brought against their predecessors, the British Athletic Federation, by Diane Modahl following her successful appeal against a doping ban in July 1995.

Modahl had to wait until eight months after her successful appeal before the International Amateur Athletic Federation gave their official blessing. Walker may yet face a similar wait.

The IAAF doping commission is currently referring two cases where well- known athletes have been cleared of doping charges by their national federations to their Arbitration Panel. The American sprinter Dennis Mitchell and Sri Lanka's world 200m silver medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe may yet have their current freedom to compete rescinded.

The doping commission next convenes at the IAAF Congress in Seville on 18-19 August, but it is doubtful whether they would be in a position to examine the details of Walkers case by then. If they decide to refer it onwards when they have had that chance, there is unlikely to be any final decision this year at least.