Athletics: Ban fears grow after 70 miss doping tests

The extent of the lurking threat to Britain's athletic representation at future events was revealed yesterday when Dave Collins, the performance director for UK Athletics, announced that around 70 British athletes had missed one out-of-competition doping test since the new regulations were adopted, and four had missed two tests.

With Christine Ohuruogu, the Commonwealth 400 metres champion, facing a one-year ban and ineligibility for future Olympics after missing three tests within an 18-month period, the hints that many more risk falling foul of the same ruling have now been given sharper definition.

"A substantial number have missed out-of-competition tests," Collins said. "Over 70 have missed at least one test - and I think four athletes have missed two. They are aware of the seriousness of the situation."

UK Athletics officials are hoping fervently that athletes take notice of Ohuruogu's situation - she is due to appear at an independent hearing in around a month's time - and become punctilious about the anti-doping rules adopted by UK Sport in July last year which fall within the guidelines demanded by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Those rules require athletes to make themselves available for one hour a day, five out of every seven days, and the emergence of Collins' worrying figures will focus attention on whether the authorities have got that balance right.

UK Sport consulted athletes from all sports before introducing the new ruling, working with the British Athletes Commission. The former Olympic rower Peter Gardner, who is the Commission's chief executive, said there had been careful consideration given to finding something which prevented cheats from operating but still allowed athletes to "have a life". Gardner said that WADA had initially wanted athletes to provide details of their whereabouts "24-7" but that this had been regarded as "unrealistic".

Before the ruling, athletes were required to let the authorities know their whereabouts, but if testers were unable to trace them on a particular occasion, they simply had to return and try again. The inference from Ohuruogu's infringement, however, is that she has at the very least failed to organise herself efficiently.

There have been claims that the current ruling is too complicated. The Norwegian coach Vicente Modahl, whose wife Diane Modahl was reinstated after a protracted doping controversy, believes the current out-of-competition testingshould be scrapped.

"I think it's impractical and difficult for the athlete," said Modahl, who is commentating here. "When you are coaching an athlete, it is sometimes impossible to schedule their programme."

Collins acknowledged the difficulties but insisted the process was necessary. "It's an extremely complicated process," Collins said. "And I have some sympathy with the athletes. But they have to do it - it's an essential part of them being professional athletes and us making sure it's a drug-free sport."

The WADA chairman, Dick Pound, transmitted an unequivocal message to athletes yesterday. "Get organised," he said. "You know as a professional athlete that doping controls are a very important part of making your sport fair and it's your responsibility to tell your federation where you are, and to be where you say you're going to be."

Sebastian Coe has expanded on his call for athletes who have been suspended for doping to get a lifetime ban from events organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

At the moment this would cover events such as the World Championships, Grand Prix final and World Cup, but Lord Coe hopes it would be extended to the Olympics.

Lord Coe, the chairman of London's 2012 bid and a member of the IAAF's ruling council, fears the sport is being irreparably damaged by continuing scandals and believes a two-year ban is insufficient.

"We have to do something or the whole sport looks stupid," Coe said. "I am sure there is a level of pressure that can be brought to bear on athletes by excluding those with a doping conviction from all IAAF world series events."

Why Ferdinand had no second chance

Out-of-competition testing resulted in the Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand being suspended for eight months in October 2003. Ferdinand's case was different to that of Christine Ohuruogu, however, in that he was ruled to have refused to take a test. Having been told that a UK Sport doping officer was at training and required a sample, Ferdinand went shopping. He was offered the chance to return, but refused.

Had he been an athlete, this would have resulted in a two-year ban, but Fifa had not - and has not - signed up to the World Anti-Doping Code. The FAruled that he should miss the rest of the season.

In 1991 Kenya's Olympic 5,000m champion John Ngugi was banned for two years after refusing to give a sample to an IAAF doping officer who turned up at his home.

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