Modahl case could ruin athletics

Norman Fox believes that the BAF may face bankruptcy if it loses in court
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The Independent Online
BRITISH athletics, which would be bankrupt by now had not Securicor recently come to the rescue with pounds 2m in sponsorship money, could again be brought to the brink of financial ruin as a result of Diane Modahl's intended High Court compensation claim for loss of earnings, legal fees and money spent on scientific advice following her four-year ban for alleged drug-taking.

The British Athletic Federation has announced a loss of pounds 256,000 up to September of last year, of which pounds 174,000 will have been accounted for by legal and professional fees. Since then the Modahl case has further eroded the BAF's security. Should she win substantial compensation, the federation is unlikely to have the money to continue maintaining the sport beyond the commitments already underwritten by existing sponsors. They have already warned the British Association of Track and Field Leagues that their grant is to be cut from pounds 80,000 to pounds 50,000.

The crux of the argument expected to be put forward by Modahl's lawyers is that it took over a year for the BAF to reverse the original decision of an inquiry which concluded that there was "no reasonable doubt" about her guilt. By the time that decision was made it was already believed that the specimens involved in the drugs test had not been stored properly. The lawyers will say that there had to be doubt about Modahl's guilt and that the BAF should have realised that fact much earlier.

So far the case has cost the BAF over pounds 100,000 while Modahl herself has spoken of her "financial ruin". Her lawyers claim that compensation could cost the BAF a further six figure amount, even half a million pounds. Discounting the possibility of paying compensation, legal fees alone will cause the BAF to seek further sponsorship at a time when the sport is not convincing the television companies that it makes compelling viewing. The money the BAF received in January from Securicor covers a two-year period and will quickly be used up in financing this summer's national championships, which will also double up as the Olympic trials, and the next two London grands prix.

A few years ago the federation's spokesman, Tony Ward, envisaged a 1997 scenario in which television and sponsorship money had dried up and athletics, which had no money worries through the golden days of the Eighties, would be in desperate trouble if it failed to become more self-sufficient at grass roots level. He had not even taken into account the cost of inquiries and court actions over drugs allegations. Obviously the sport took little notice and several of the nation's most famous clubs are now facing bleak futures.

The official federation line over the Modahl compensation claim is that there is nothing in their rules to hold them responsible, especially as the case was brought by the international federation (IAAF) and the tests were carried out abroad, in Portugal. However, Modahl has won considerable sympathy for her ordeal and the High Court could decide that the BAF did not do enough to back her when it became obvious that the evidence was highly suspect.

The IAAF has all but accepted that Modahl was wrongly accused of taking large amounts of performance-enhancing drugs. With pained reluctance, they have told her she is free to compete. Shortly they may have to admit that their drugs testing is flawed. However, what irks the BAF is that there is no question of the IAAF giving financial support to assist in legal costs either for themselves or Modahl.

Meanwhile, most club athletes support Modahl in her accusation that she has been "betrayed" by the BAF, but they question the prospect of paying what the BAF say are "more realistic" fees to compete domestically if a high proportion of the money coming into the sport is going into the pockets of lawyers. Ironically, while the BAF faces the prospect of another financial crisis, the Amateur Athletic Association, which is no longer in the forefront of the sport, has pounds 1.3m in a deposit account.