The Nick Townsend column: Heavy price to pay if golden girl is given green light

Allowing Christine Ohuruogu to run in Beijing would further erode the public's faith in athletics' stance towards drug-testing
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You expected nothing else from Steve Cram, who was almost hyperventilating as Christine Ohuruogu forced her frame across the line in what was, undeniably, a denouement to savour. As the 1983 World Championships 1500m gold medallist turned commentator gushed his hyperbole, about books being written and films being made about this story in years to come, the uncomfortable truths which may be weaved into such a narrative were not about to disturb his momentum. Nor was it any surprise that his fellow BBC TV and radio colleagues, riddled as they are with former performers, should offer a myopic view of Ohuruogu's remarkable triumph in the 400m final in Osaka.

They inhabit a world in which awkward questions tend to undergo self-censorship lest they offend their friends in track and field. Objectivity, let alone news values, is alien to them. Hence the inevitable divide that exists between those apologists and those of us who attempt to scrutinise sport's broader canvas, and for whom Wednesday's victory was alwaysgoing to be about more than merely a famous defeat of her compatriot Nicola Sanders and Jamaica's Novlene Williams.

As the Londoner prepared to depart with her prizes of £30,000 and an Alfa Romeo GT, and contemplated the prospect of lucrative matches with the absent US record-holder Sanya Richards, she opined that a stigma would always be present. It will, at least in part because of the innuendo prompted by her performance improving spectacularly since she returned from her year-long suspension, culminating in a personal-best time at the Nagai Stadium, and because of her links with Linford Christie, who in the past tested positive for taking a banned steroid.

The innuendo is unwarranted, as is any assertion that she has taken drugs. However, that doesn't mean the testing system, which exists for the benefit of all sportsmen and women, should be circumvented purely on the basis that she has never tested positive, and "we all know Christine is clean".

We heard the same mantra four years ago when Rio Ferdinand was not just castigated but mercilessly lampooned after oneno-show for a drugs test. Back then, we were lectured by his England team-mates, some of whom were prepared to strike on his behalf, blithely claiming that he was simply forgetful. He had other things on his mind. Going shopping, wasn't it?

"This has nothing to do with drug-taking," they protested then, as others do now. Unfortunately,it has everything to do it. We all know what the vituperative response would have been from British athletes had Ohuruogu hailed from a country in the former Eastern Bloc or from China. Testing is there as much to protect the innocent from rumour as to persecute the guilty.

It would have induced more sympathy if Ohuruogu had adopted a stance of contrition rather than behaving as though she was somehow a victim. She grew up in Stratford, east London, and was to become the face of 2012 – now she awaits the results of an appeal against the BOA's Olympics ban.

She speaks of the "negativity" towards her, which spurred her to victory. Well, what did she expect, after a ban was imposed for missing three out-of-competition drug tests? She has her answer to that. "People in the sport are supportive," she said. "They understand the system. It is those outside the sport you have to educate."

She will just have to pardon us for not possessing a degree in Real Athletics. However, the 23-year-old treads on dangerous terrain if she fails to appreciate that public perception is a potent force and a crucial component of a sport's prosperity. Athletics needs its credibility, not least to encourage the sponsors who continue to help finance her rewards. The organisers of the Tour de France could educate her on what happens when the public and financial backers begin to lose faith.

Not that our words are likely to impede her chances of restoration to the Olympic family. There is a suspicion, particularly with the prime minister having dashed off a congratulatory line, and the fact that the world triathlon champion Tim Don and judo's Peter Cousins committed the same "error" and were both cleared for Olympic competition, that political expediency will determine whether she will receive the all-clear for Beijing. Never mind that it would communicate entirely the wrong message to the sport.

If, as Michael Johnson suggests in her mitigation, Ohuruogu was "confused about her obligations and responsibilities as a professional athlete", where were those who oversee her career to prevent that occurring? Certainly someone among her coterie should now quietly remind her that while sport is primarily about striving for excellence, it is vital that this is achieved by fair means, and must be seen to do so. Every sport, every governing body, has to stand firm on this issue, and not waver because of the Olympic gold potential of the individual concerned.

Consider rowing. Rarely is it tainted by drug-taking, not least because, as Sir Steve Redgrave will tell you, there are few substances available which will enhance performances in what is an endurance sport. Nevertheless, in this week's World Rowing Championships, three Russian oarsmen were banned for two years for doping violations. Not actually taking drugs, mind you, but for admitting using intravenous drips, with legal substances, but without a legitimate medical reason. Fisa, rowing's governing body, is that strict.

The BOA will be under pressure to grant Ohuruogu's appeal. By doing so, they might be adding to Britain's gold medal haul next year and beyond. They would also do so in the knowledge that if the system is undermined by such amnesiacs as Ohuruogu, the price will be heavy: a further erosion of public faith in sport's stance towards drug-testing.

O'Neill must keep calm at Villa even if Jose plays pantomime villain

So, lie down on the couch, Martin, and tell me what's troubling you. It's been that kind of season for Martin O'Neill, who, even in his more subdued moments, boasts sufficientfacial variations of fury and bemusement to claim him a belated place at Rada. At the start of the season, at home to Liverpool, the Radio 5 Live commentator Alan Green implored his compatriot to calm down, fearing the effect on the Aston Villa manager's health. Last Saturday, with Fulham the visitors, O'Neill was banished to the stands at half-time after berating referee Steve Bennett – although, it must be stressed, the Northern Irishman was later contrition itself as he apologised.

One can only begin to contem-plate the potential for the touchline to become testosterone-charged territory today at Villa Park where O'Neill and Jose Mourinho come together. At Stamford Bridge last September, they ended up hugging each other, but not before there had been a face-to-face confrontation between the pair, whose "previous" stretches back to a tempestuous 2003 Uefa Cup final between O'Neill's Celtic and Mourinho's Porto.

That should not obscure the genuine affection and respect that exists between the duo. However, one suspects that O'Neill, after just over a year in charge at Villa Park, is betraying the first evidence of profound managerialpressure back in the Premier League. This season is his moment of truth, having invested some £26 million of Randy Lerner's money (if we include £10m for Curtis Davies, whose movefrom West Brom only becomes permanent next summer).

I recall his words to me when he arrived just over a year ago: "I will be judged on winning football games and bringing some decent days back to Villa. That's what I want to do, with a bit of panache and a bit of excitement." Few who have known him down the years wouldn't wish him good fortune in that endeavour – so long as his heart holds.

Watch Martin O'Neill's men against Chelsea today on Sky Sports, kick-off 4pm