Pascoe left to count the cost of vigilance

The view from Britain: Athletics will have to pay with its image during the war on the cheats

Alan Pascoe knows what it is like to encounter hurdles. As an athlete he successfully straddled a few thousand, and once famously back-flipped into one when celebrating a Commonwealth Games medal in a classic piece of track theatre. Now even more troublesome obstacles are in the path of the man charged with persuading the public, and the sponsors, that athletics is not doomed to self-destruct.

Alan Pascoe knows what it is like to encounter hurdles. As an athlete he successfully straddled a few thousand, and once famously back-flipped into one when celebrating a Commonwealth Games medal in a classic piece of track theatre. Now even more troublesome obstacles are in the path of the man charged with persuading the public, and the sponsors, that athletics is not doomed to self-destruct.

Pascoe is responsible for the promotion and public face of athletics in Britain through his organisation Fast Track, which also negotiates sponsorship and TV rights. This means he has to pick up the baton and prove that despite the current crisis over drugs, athletics can still show the world of sport a clean pair of heels after the lethal injections. For this he is likely to require the combined wiles of Don King and P T Barnum.

As the sport's sales director, Pascoe must hope that something positive now emerges - and he doesn't mean more devastating lab reports on urine samples featuring designer substances with tongue- twisting names.

He admits the task is not going to be easy. More than ever, he will need to look before he leaps. "There is no doubt that athletics' image has been dented by what has happened, but the main thing is that we've got to get the message across to the kids - that you don't have to take drugs to succeed in athletics - and use Paula Radcliffe and others as an example to that.

"I just hope what is happening now is athletics' Big Bang, and it will get it all out of the sport's system, quite literally, if you like. I just pray it is not going to get any worse.

"But what worried me was when two friends told me that their kids had said to them that they believed that the reason some of their sports heroes were so good was because they were on drugs - though they were actually referring to footballers.

"As we know, drugs are not just a serious concern to athletics, the problem goes right across the board. Of course we could all do without the present situation, but if this is going to send out a very clear message to the drugs-takers, especially since these tests can now be made retrospective, that there is now no hiding place, it can only be for the good.

"I just wish every country was as vigilant as ourselves, and every sport as vigorous about it as athletics. Unfortunately we have become the whipping boy. OK, there's no denying there's a big problem in athletics, but there's a huge spread of a drugs culture in sports across the UK, and probably more so in America, France and certain other European nations too.

"That doesn't excuse athletics, but it's just unfortunate that some journalists seem to think the whole sport is rife with it, and are virtually writing it off. It is a high price to pay for such vigilance."

One of 56-year-old Pascoe's contemporaries, Dave Bedford, has been quoted as saying that he believes 90 per cent of athletics is clean. That still leaves the alarming figure of 10 per cent that may not be. Is this a reasonable assessment?

"Personally I would say that it is less than one per cent, and this is now being rooted out. I think internationally the sport has to look seriously at the role of the coaches and the agents and the people who run training groups. That's always been the crux of the problem. Agents should be denied the right to trade if any of their athletes are found to be on drugs, and similarly coaches."

So how will the latest chemical controversies, which have implicated one of Britain's biggest track names, Dwain Chambers, impact on what is going to be a crucial season for the credibility of athletics, culminating in the Olympic Games? "I hope by then everything will be done and dusted, but we've obviously got some rebuilding to do.

"Thankfully, the sponsors do not seem to have got cold feet, and I think that most people understand now that athletics does want to put its house in order, and that it is doing its best to resolve the problems. I'm not saying that people should be applauding the sport, but hopefully they will be supportive because of the stance it has taken."

Although Pascoe, newly appointed as a vice-chairman of London's 2012 Olympic Bid, grew up athletically "in the days when so many athletes had to compete with hands tied behind their backs because of the stuff the Eastern Europeans and others were taking", he says he was deeply shocked by the latest piece of California scheming.

"I thought the volume of testing and the issues that had been thrown up by nandrolone had delivered the message, but patently this is not so.

"I have to say that I wasn't always fully in favour of some of the severe measures that were taken over nandrolone, with possibly one exception, because the positive readings could certainly have been caused by contamination of dietary supplements which athletes knew nothing about, but it has to be right that you are personally responsible for what you swallow, and this is this only position that sport can take.

"However there are countries who I believe help their athletes to avoid random testing, yet here is Britain being slagged off for making sure that athletes are available for testing 365 days a year, and not conveniently disappearing off here, there and everywhere. But as we've seen from the Rio Ferdinand business, the same message has to be got across to other sports.

"With London's Olympic bid up and running it can only be beneficial in terms of the International Olympic Committee that Britain is seen to be at the forefront of the fight against drugs. Whether this will work to our advantage, I am not sure, but I hope it does.

"If we don't do our utmost to stamp it out now, we might just as well give it up and leave it as a free-for-all. It is very galling that so much money has to go in to fighting drugs in any sport, but in an age when society takes a much more lenient view of drug usage at all levels, sport has to try and set some standards."

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