It would have been laughable were the Conservative MP Jesse Norman not chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and so, we have to assume, entrusted with a supposed role in helping persuade the athletics establishment that some transparency on doping would help to lift its battered reputation.
It is hard to know whose utterances have been more depressing in the past 48 hours: Norman’s or Paula Radcliffe’s. The MP has managed – by accident, not design, he claims – to out Radcliffe as a name on the list of endurance athletes with suspicious blood values during a hearing of his committee.
The storm he whipped up managed to obscure the more important fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency has accused Sebastian Coe’s International Association of Athletics Federations of deliberately blocking its findings.
Then there is Radcliffe – so prepared for Norman’s gaffe that she had a lengthy four-page defence ready to press the button on. She was neither named nor accused of anything in Parliament, and yet her haste in getting her side of the story across suggested she was waiting for this moment, which has turned the narrative into one about an MP denigrating a national heroine.
What do you know, an under-siege Norman decides to sling the blame in a very predictable direction. “It’s a press pack. It’s a herd of ungulates,” he told the BBC's Today programme, suggesting that a “snippet” of his Select Committee evidence had been used by journalists to bounce Radcliffe into “her statement”. (Ungulates: any members of a diverse group of primarily large mammals that includes horse, cattle, pigs, giraffes… As insults on the hoof go, that’s just fine.)
Norman was joining in what has become a rather predictable routine from those in the athletics establishment as they have, not unreasonably, been asked searching questions about blood values.
Lord Coe told the Associated Press’s Steve Wilson that The Sunday Times had “declared war on athletics”, with its investigative journalism.
Then UK Athletics chief Ed Warner said Coe’s comments were justifiable as he had an IAAF presidential election to win and accused the British press of “some lazy shorthand journalism at times” this summer. We had to assume he was describing the Daily Mail’s entirely justifiable decision to report that, shortly before the London Olympics in 2012, Mo Farah failed to answer the door to drug testers who had been instructed to ring his doorbell repeatedly over the course of an hour.
Backsliding nonsense: every mealy-mouthed word of it. Since Radcliffe has, by every available account, never been placed under serious investigation, the professional, distinguished, Olympian way out of the rumour mill is self-evident. And it does not involve threatening The Sunday Times with lawsuits. It is to make available every piece of her data for public consumption – every blood test, every individual Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) she has ever been granted. Hand it over to as many experts as possible, explain the background and let them determine it.
“Let the research dictate the results,” as Steve Magness, the University of Texas coach who contributed to the BBC’s Panorama documentary on Alberto Salazar said on Facebook. “Go with openness. Be transparent, even if the results don’t show exactly what you want. It’s transparency at all times, not just when it’s convenient, that matters.” Radcliffe put herself at the forefront of the anti-doping campaign. It’s hypocrisy not to follow such a course.
Norman continued to make an embarrassing public spectacle of himself. “I’m afraid you are doing a bit of a ‘Gotcha’ here,” he told Today when the questions became taxing. It meant that nobody wanted to talk about Wada’s findings in the blocked report: 29 per cent of athletes were doping before the 2011 World Championships; 45 per cent before the 2011 Pan Arab Games in Doha. Athletics needs help. And it needs better people than this.Reuse content