Drugs in Sport: BAF wants explanation over delays: British anger grows

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BRITISH athletics officials are demanding an explanation from their Russian counterparts over their apparent knowledge of Diane Modahl's positive drug test nearly a month before the British Athletic Federation was informed.

Modahl was withdrawn from the Commonwealth Games in Victoria half an hour before she was scheduled to defend her 800 metres title on Wednesday. BAF had been told that day of the positive test, carried out in Portugal on 18 June.

Russian officials told journalists at the Goodwill Games in July that their women's team would take the place of the British at the World Cup final at Crystal Palace next month because a drug finding would invalidate Britain's qualification. A Russian sports newspaper also carried a report to this effect.

This circumstance, and the fact that three announcements of positive tests by British athletes in the last two years have been delayed until major championships (Jason Livingston at the Olympics, Solomon Wariso at the European Championships and Modahl at the Commonwealth Games) have encouraged the conspiracy theorists.

The British federation is deeply concerned with the situation and some people are wondering if the timings are purely coincidental given the deteriorating relationship in recent years between Britain and the International Amateur Athletic Federation, under whose aegis the testing takes place. The IAAF describes the delays as 'unfortunate' but denies they are intentional.

However, the IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, has clashed with British officials in the past and has been a target for sections of the British media, which have accused him of abusing his position of power. Last year's transfer of IAAF headquarters from London to Monte Carlo was seen as indicative of an uneasy relationship with Britain.

Meanwhile, Britain is holding open a possibility of keeping its women's team in the World Cup. BAF is reserving the right to appeal against confirmation of Modahl's positive test when a second analysis is made on Tuesday. Modahl, it is understood, will be at the opening of the B sample in Lisbon, as is her right. The IAAF is reported to have said that the illegal substance in question, if confirmed, would lead to the maximum four-year ban.

The British women's place at the World Cup is dependent on Modahl's 800m victory in the European Cup, where they took the second qualifying place. If she is suspended, it would be retrospective from the testing date and invalidate her European Cup performance.

BAF's spokesman said yesterday that a decision on whether to withdraw the women's team would be made within a week. Britain will pull out if Modahl is shown to have 'gained unfair advantage' in the European Cup. But a simple confirmatory test of the B sample will not be enough to convince them of that, and any mitigating medical condition will give cause for an appeal.

Caroline Searle, the English team spokeswoman at the Commonwealth Games, said Modahl had rung members of the team yesterday. 'She said it was all a gigantic mistake,' she said.

Sir Arthur Gold, chairman of BAF's drug abuse committee, said yesterday that more funding should be provided for testing British athletes. 'If we have got an open-ended budget, we could be testing on a much wider scale and eradicate drug abuse on a much wider scale,' he said.

The Sports Council's acting director general, Derek Casey, said the British drug-testing programme would be reviewed over the next few weeks. But he pointed out that the amount of cash spent on testing had risen over the last few years from around pounds 200,000 to almost pounds 1.5m. He added that about 4,000 samples were tested each year and analysis alone cost pounds 120 per sample.

BAF is exploring the possibility of a database link-up with High Street chemists which would give any athlete in doubt about whether a medicine was legal or illegal access to the official list. The Sports Council's doping control unit is compiling all the names of the banned drugs on computer.

In the meantime, the IAAF is considering doing away with B sample testing. 'If testing on A samples can become sufficiently ironclad, it may be possible to drop B sample testing as verification,' a spokesman said.

In yesterday's Independent it was stated that Solomon Wariso had received a three-month ban after testing positive for the mild stimulant, ephedrine. In fact, he is suspended pending his appeal. We apologise for the error.