View from the Sofa: Steve Cram puts a fact in the way of the story - a test missed doesn’t mean a test avoided

European Team Championships, BBC2

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The Independent Online

It is both a credit to the BBC’s commentary line-up and a sad indictment on athletics that we greet coverage of the sport with the hope that we can get some insight into the latest controversy as well as commentary on running, jumping and throwing.

And so it was with Saturday’s coverage of the European Team Championships, a competition which was swiftly dismissed as populated by a “developmental” bunch of British athletes by the BBC pundits Paula Radcliffe and Denise Lewis.

We were barely five minutes into the four-hour stint covering the event in Russia when the host, Gabby Logan – seated in Salford with Lewis and Radcliffe – promised that “we would be talking about the Farah story in half an hour”.

Mo Farah has been subjected to all manner of lurid headlines over the past week on account of him missing two drugs tests before London 2012. This followed allegations of his coach Alberto Salazar administering performance-enhancing drugs to some of his athletes. Farah wasn’t one of the athletes accused – and has since twice stated he has never taken drugs – and the coach denies all the claims.

Steve Cram, the BBC commentator, made, in eloquent and impassioned fashion, an important point which many have overlooked: that there are two stories here.

“We have gone off on a couple of different tangents from the original set of allegations,” Cram said. “The allegations were against his coach. Now Mo has also had to come out and give an explanation about the two missed tests. Some sections of the media seem keen to make out that a missed test means avoiding a test, which it does not.

“There is an individual here being targeted around his credibility as an athlete. In some quarters people are now saying he is a cheat. It’s turned into a ‘let’s have a go at Mo’ situation.”

Farah’s Salazar connection gets increasingly uncomfortable the more athletes come forward to tell tales against the coach. Questions need to be asked, whatever the answers. And Farah says he has asked questions of his coach.

The missed tests, by comparison, are trivial. Michael Rimmer, a middle-distance runner who missed two tests through “stupidity”, explained how easy it is to get a strike against your name. Rimmer’s first miss was when he opted to stay at his parents’ home because he was injured. On hearing from one of his housemates that the tester was at the door, he raced across town by taxi and missed his hour-long slot by five minutes.

The second, he said, was “even more stupid”, as he boarded a train having changed his plans at the last minute, forgetting to update his whereabouts.

It would have been nice to hear some insight from Radcliffe – who was so outspoken when allegations against Russian athletes surfaced last year – into the workings of the Oregon-based training camp where Salazar is based.

And it would have been useful to hear just how many visits from testers a world-beating elite athlete is subjected to. Farah said last week that he has had hundreds, which puts his two missed tests into perspective.

But Radcliffe kept schtum. She, Farah and Salazar are all bonded by a Nike Swoosh, so there may be loyalty issues there, but it would have been helpful to hear her take on events off the track as well as on it.