IAAF threat to Lisbon laboratory

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The Independent Online


The Lisbon laboratory which conducted the doping test on Diane Modahl looks increasingly likely to have its official status revoked in the wake of strong criticism from the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

In dropping the case against Modahl on Monday, the IAAF expressed "grave concern" about the way her sample had been stored, and the Portuguese facility faces losing its place as one of the 24 laboratories accredited by the International Olympic Committee to conduct drug-testing worldwide.

A source within the IAAF hinted yesterday that Lisbon's status may be in doubt, and more stringent procedures were being considered. But the official line was that nothing was being decided until the IOC had studied IAAF reports over the case.

Dr Patrick Schamasch, director of the IOC medical commission, confirmed yesterday that Lisbon had fulfilled all the requirements of the annual accreditation process last April, but refused to comment on how the laboratory stood in the light of IAAF criticism.

Two other laboratories have had their accreditation revoked in recent years - both for non-technical matters. Kreische, in East Germany, had its status downgraded in the wake of the unification of Germany and revelations of organised doping for DDR athletes. It has since been re-accredited. The laboratory at Ghent is awaiting re-accreditation following a conflict of regulations between its national body and the IAAF.

The IAAF came under fire yesterday from its former spokesman Christopher Winner. Winner, who left the IAAF last year, claimed its decision over Modahl was motivated by money, given that the president, Primo Nebiolo, had made it clear he wanted fewer legal wrangles and arbitration cases after the expensive Butch Reynolds affair.

"At the time of her original ban the IAAF already knew that doubt and confusion were dominant in the case," Winner said. "Still, they pressed ahead in what became a fierce and futile medical tug-of-war. The IAAF could have ended the ordeal with the same phrase uttered nearly two years later - `serious element of doubt'. At the time, however, financial considerations were less pressing upon the governing body and they chose to maintain a hard line. Since it was always billed as a watershed case about drugs and drugs-testing, the way it was conducted and the way it has been closed is cavalier and shameful."

In the meantime, William Hill are giving odds of 33-1 on Modahl winning the Olympic 800 metres title. Eric Hughes, her team manager at Sale Harriers, had a more conservative prediction: "I'm absolutely sure you will see Diane in Atlanta. She has felt betrayed and it's not surprising in view of the torment she has been put through.

"But I think she realises only a very small percentage have been against her and the vast majority of people were convinced of her innocence. Diane has the courage and strength to show the world she is still a fine athlete."

Modahl, who has not competed internationally since the summer of 1994, has had only two outings since winning her appeal - a road race and a cross-country relay. Her husband and coach, Vicente, has been satisfied with her progress. "She is in the sort of shape she would normally be in at this time of the year," he said. "She will definitely run the Olympic trial, even if her feelings about the BAF make it difficult."

In the light of her on-going legal battle with the BAF for pounds 480,000 in compensation, it is the mental, rather than the physical adjustment which may prove hardest for her as she seeks an 800m place alongside Britain's world bronze medallist, Kelly Holmes. Tony Ward, spokesman for the BAF, said: "We hope she can return to top-class competition. She would be welcomed back into the team."

The BAF insist they will defend the action "vigorously". They want the IAAF to share their costs of around pounds 200,000 and to pay the fees of both sides since last October for not immediately accepting Modahl's successful London appeal against a four-year ban. Modahl's solicitor, Tony Morton- Hooper, has also called on the IAAF "to make amends for what has happened to her". The IAAF are showing no inclination to pay up.

Du'Aine Ladejo, Britain's European 400m champion, has called for a fund to be established for athletes in Modahl's position. "To test positive and know that you are innocent is an athlete's biggest nightmare," he said. "She has lost everything. There needs to be a fund of some sort set up to help her."

Ladejo maintained that the onus of making good the costs Modahl has incurred in her 18-month battle to clear her name was heavily on the IAAF. "No one can be exonerated in a case like this and not be refunded," he said. "The BAF seem to have followed the right procedures."