Modahl plans to continue fight in court

Mike Rowbottom assesses the possible consequences of Diane Modahl's success in having her drugs ban overturned
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The Independent Online
Plans are already being laid by Diane Modahl and her legal advisers for further action in the civil courts to clear her name. It is likely to be necessary.

All the signs are that the International Amateur Athletic Federation will refer her case back to their own arbitration panel, and it will take considerable bravery on their part to back the former Commonwealth 800 metres champion. That action would implicitly criticise and undermine the worldwide testing procedure which the federation has put in place over the last decade.

In recent years, both Katrin Krabbe and Butch Reynolds have won appeals within their own federation against drug bans, only to have their punishments confirmed by the IAAF arbitration panel. Modahl's case is potentially even more damaging to the world body, pointing as it does to fallibility within the testing procedure itself.

There are two immediate consequences. The first has been voiced by Britain's former double European 400 metres champion, Roger Black.

"The fact that this happened to Diane is just a coincidence. It could happen to any of us," he said. "The ramifications are great and I think athletes around the world will be under a lot of fear as we take our drugs tests."

Britain's team doctor, Malcolm Brown, who went on record last year in proclaiming Modahl's innocence, backed up Black's point yesterday. "The IAAF must look at their procedure with transport and storage of specimens," he said. "I think that would reassure people."

But the IAAF's problem is that if they accept that the procedure which they have previously defended as being 100 per cent correct was actually flawed on occasions, then the position of infallibility which they have adopted thus far will have been compromised and the way will be open to any guilty athlete to exploit the loophole.

The new evidence which was crucial in swaying the appeal panel consisted of an analysis of urine samples given after exercise by two female athletes. In an operation that was performed in duplicate as a check, each of the athlete's samples was split, with half being stored in appropriate, refrigerated conditions, and the other half being kept at 37C - blood temperature - for 72 hours.

The samples were compared. For one of the athletes, the inappropriately stored sample showed slightly more testosterone than the refrigerated one. The difference between the two in the other case was what Professor Simon Gaskell described as "a quite dramatic increase". The refrigerated sample showed testosterone in ratio to epitestosterone - the way in which testosterone is measured - at 2.5:1. The unrefrigerated sample was 12.5:1.

"It was clear immediately that this data was recognised as being of great importance, perhaps central importance," Gaskell said. According to Brown, the BAF medical experts themselves were complimentary about the research.

If the Lisbon laboratory has indeed erred, it is a particularly heavy blow for the International Olympic Committee, which accredits the 24 official drug-testing centres around the world.

All the centres are automatically inspected every year. Four years ago the centre at Kreisha in East Germany had its licence revoked because it did not demonstrate the required standard of analysis.

Two years ago, laboratories in Seoul, Athens, Copenhagen and Prague were downgraded to national testing centres for a variety of reasons, including financial problems, although all have since recovered their status.

But the Lisbon laboratory has been one of the IOC's most highly regarded centres since it was accredited in 1987. An IOC spokesman said yesterday that in every annual inspection, including that this January, the Lisbon laboratory's results have been "impeccable".

The obvious question obtrudes: if one of the IOC's most highly regarded centres can make mistakes, how secure can athletes feel about the system?

In a way, the IAAF have painted themselves into a corner by insisting upon their absolute rectitude. Wherever humans are involved, mistakes will sometimes be made. For the IAAF simply to acknowledge that there are still areas of the system which need to be tightened up would constitute a mature and positive response.

Meanwhile, the question of how the federation are now going to become Modahl's allies in facing the expected IAAF challenge appears similarly delicate.

Modahl could not bring herself to talk about the British federation on the night she heard the appeal verdict. In a written statement, she declared: "I have been branded a cheat and a liar. I was accused by my own federation and the world governing body. But I have never taken any banned substances and never will. I found it hard to understand how I could have been prosecuted in the first place."

For all the BAF's expressions of delight that one of their athletes has been shown to be innocent, there are some very large bridges to be built.

But that task is going to have to be attempted, because the matter now lies between the BAF and the IAAF if it goes to arbitration. It would be nice to think that this episode will not affect the efforts of the federation's executive chairman, Peter Radford, to become a member of the IAAF council.