Athletics: Reputations tarnished again as White's case adds to the confusion

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The Independent Online

The best and worst of athletics forced itself to the attention of the world here on Saturday as an inspired French double in the long jump and sprint relay rekindled a World Championships whose flame had begun to gutter, only to be accompanied by the doping controversy involving America's 100m and 200m gold medallist, Kelli White.

Not good for White. Not good for USA Track and Field, which was already embroiled in another doping row over the winner of the 400m here, Jerome Young, with allegations that he had been allowed to compete in the 2000 Olympics following a positive test for nandrolone after being cleared on internal appeal. And, most importantly, not good for the sport.

The 26-year-old seems sure to lose the medals she collected here after testing positive for a substance the International Association of Athletics Federations deems to be a prohibited stimulant, even though the product White says she took before the 100m final, Modafinil, is not on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances this year.

Under the strict liability ruling which holds sway in such matters, athletes are responsible for substances within their body no matter how they came to be there. Claiming, as White did on Saturday evening, that she did not know that the substance - which is used by pilots and soldiers to stay alert - was prohibited, is no defence.

Nor is it a defence to claim, as she also did, that she had undergone several doping tests since starting to take the substance three months ago after finding that, like several members of her family, she was suffering from the effects of narcolepsy.

The other inescapable weakness of White's case is the fact that she did not declare the substance on her doping form along with any other products she may have been taking. The reason she gave for this, that she did not take it every day, but only on an "as needs" basis was not convincing. She had felt the need to take it before the 100m final, so why did she not say so?

You would have thought that White would have been extra-cautious in this respect given that she had only just emerged from a six-month ban on competing in France after a sample given at the St-Denis meeting in July last year showed traces of clenbuterol, present in an asthma inhaler.

The French doping authorities are more strict than the IAAF over such substances as a result of the doping scandals which have scarred the Tour de France in recent years.

But if White has left herself open to ignominy - and much of the responsibility for this must be laid at the door of her national federation in failing to advise her correctly - her case has only highlighted the uncertainties and grey areas in doping control which are currently harming the sport's image.

Modafinil, for instance, is due to be added to the IOC list of banned substances next year, but the IAAF vice-president Arnie Ljungqvist said on Saturday that White infringed the rules under the catch-all clause in the list which mentions "related substances".

Although the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been set up to make independent judgements on cases of doping infringement, athletes testing positive still have to go through hearings conducted by their own federations before their case is reviewed by the IAAF.

Dave Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, is one of many who has been calling for years for an independent body that would deal both with testing and disciplinary measures, leaving national federations out of the process.

Colin Jackson, working for BBC Television here, witnessed the growth of anti-doping initiatives in the course of his 15-year top-class career to March this year, and he is scathing about the lack of clarity as far as athletes are concerned.

"What we see now is a whole mess," Jackson said. "It's not structured, and that is where the problem lies. What brings the whole credibility of the sport down is that there are no real answers to anything."