Athletics: Ohuruogu may not be alone in missing tests

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The Independent Online

Christine Ohuruogu, who faces a one-year ban and the prospect of ineligibility for any future Olympics, could be the first of many competitors to fall foul of the new doping regulations brought in by UK Sport last summer, with potentially serious effects on Britain's Olympic ambitions.

The 22-year-old Commonwealth 400 metres champion, who has missed three out-of-competition drug tests within the last 18 months, cannot run in the European Championships because of a provisional suspension imposed by UK Athletics and her season appears effectively over, as her hearing with an independent disciplinary committee is likely to take at least a month to set up.

But sports officials admitted yesterday that many other British sportsmen and women could themselves in a similar position to the woman who has been a high-profile feature of the London bid for the 2012 Games because she lives in Stratford, east London, where the Olympic stadium will be built.

"We understand from UK Sport that there are a number of competitors in different British sports, some of whom will be track and field athletes, who have had one or more missed tests," Dave Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, said yesterday.

Moorcroft emphasised that all athletes who missed tests were informed by letter and offered the chance to explain themselves, and added that after any second missed test the athlete got a letter and a serious warning by telephone that one more "strike" could see them out.

Under International Association of Athletics Federations rules, Ohuruogu faces a year ban, and the British Olympic Association confirmed yesterday that any such punishment would trigger its by-law under which British athletes guilty of doping infractions may no longer compete at the Olympics. "We have a growing number of missed tests," said UK Sport's programme manager, Nicole Sapstead, who added that warning letters had been written to Britain's performance directors. "If the current trend continues, we will be faced with the prospect of athletes across various sports being suspended due to what is essentially their inability to follow a simple procedure designed to protect their right to compete on a level playing field.

"We are concerned that the importance of providing accurate whereabouts information is not being fully understood by sportsmen and women. The last thing we want is for British athletes to miss out on major championships ...but if things do not change, that is the reality we face."

Moorcroft and other UK Athletics officials heard 10 days ago that Ohuruogu's case was being considered by a doping advisory officer and that she faced a provisional suspension if it was felt she had a case to answer. The decision became known at 5pm on Sunday night.

"The disciplinary panel will take a minimum of three to four weeks to sit," Moorcroft said. "It's the athlete's call in terms of what evidence they want to present, and the IAAF can challenge any ruling. The least satisfactory time to learn something like this is on the eve of a major championships, but life is like that sometimes. I think the IAAF and the rest of the world will be watching this case very carefully. This procedure is less simple than strict liability, where an athlete is responsible for any substances found in their body."

Asked if he hoped that other British athletes would take notice of Ohuruogu's case, Moorcroft said: "Totally. Athletes are responsible for what they take, and their availability for testing. If we are trying to keep sport clean, we have to be this rigorous."

Before formulating its new policy on out-of-competition tests, UK Sport consulted with all sports through the UK Athletes Commission, whose chief executive Peter Gardner said the regulations had been set up to make life "less onerous" for athletes.

"Initially, WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] wanted athletes to notify their whereabouts 24-7, but that wasn't realistic," he said. "The idea of having to notify on five out of seven days is to strike a balance between giving athletes a life and making sure people can't get away with doping. Whatever people are takingis likely to hang around in their bodies for between two and three days, so this timeframe should mean any cheats are caught."

Moorcroft also welcomed suggestions by Seb Coe, leader of the London Organising Committee and an IAAF council member, that athletes testing positive for drugs should not compete in major championships. "We would be happy with that," he said.

UK Sport's testing policy

* In July 2005, UK Sport adopted the following policy on out-of competition testing to satisfy World Anti-Doping Authority guidelines:

* Athletes must specify their whereabouts for one hour a day at least five days a week.

* Testers will wait for the full hour. Three missed tests within 18 months earn bans between three months and two years, depending on the sport.

* Athletes receive written notification of missed tests and have a chance to explain. A second missed test earns a serious warning.

* A third missed test sees doping officer decide if there is case to answer. Athletes can appeal against result to Council for Arbitration in Sport.

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