Modahl's future bleak as ban is upheld

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Diane Modahl's response to yesterday's confirmation of her four-year ban for doping abuse could not have been more dignified.

In the face of the massed ranks of the media, she announced her intention to contest the decision of the British Athletic Federation's disciplinary committee in a voice that carried clearly over the rustling notepads and rewinding cameras. Tears brimmed in her eyes, but were not permitted to fall. At one point, she rested her hand on the leg of her husband and manager, Vicente, who sat beside her with an expression of distress.

But when they walked from the room, the prospect which faced the Modahls must have appeared bleak indeed. Despite widespread speculation that a medical condition might have caused the abnormal levels of testosterone that showed up in the sample she gave after a meeting in Lisbon on 18 June, such evidence had not been advanced.

The remaining grounds for the defence - that her sample had been mishandled - had been dismissed by the panel unanimously. And when pressed on the hopes of success with the appeal committee of three which will be set up by the BAF, Modahl's solicitor, Tony Morton-Hooper, had to admit that any new evidence was more likely to come from outside sources rather than being generated by the Modahl team.

He did express "grave concern" that all the evidence requested of the Lisbon laboratory, particularly relating to the security of the sample, was not made available - indeed, he questioned whether the full documentation existed. He also criticised the failure of representatives of the Lisbon laboratory to accept an invitation to attend the hearing.

The expressions of surprise voiced at the decision by the International Amateur Athletic Federation's spokesman, Christopher Winner, seemed to make it clear that there had been some suspicion in Monte Carlo that Modahl might get a "home town decision". If Modahl does proceed beyond the next stage to an IAAF arbitration panel, her prospects of arguing her case on procedural grounds would be extremely poor.

The former Commonwealth 800 metres champion was flown home shortly before defending her title when the offending test result was announced in August.

If her appeal, which is likely to take a couple of months to set up, is unsuccessful, the tortuous route taken by other athletes who have contested doping convictions, such as Butch Reynolds and Katrin Krabbe, beckons. The next stop would be the IAAF arbitration panel, then the arbitration panel recently set up by the International Olympic Committee, and then the courts.

The Modahls' costs already run into an estimated six figures taking into account lost earnings, medical bills and legal fees. They have no immediate plans to accept the six-figure sums which have already been offered to them for their story by two newspapers, but their solicitor was careful yesterday to establish the point that they would eventually want to tell their own story.

Having heard the bulk of the complex evidence on Tuesday, the panel, chaired by Dr Martyn Lucking, had reached its decision yesterday morning within an hour.

"We held a preliminary hearing in October and there were very few points of contention when it came to the hearing," Lucking said. "But we had to rubber-stamp it all as it came through."

He confirmed that Modahl's medical condition had not been part of her defence. "Her medical advisers said it was of no significance and was not relevant. The main issue was the degradation [of the sample]."

The decision has also called into question the position of Malcolm Brown, the BAF team doctor, who proclaimed Modahl's innocence when she was suspended pending this week's hearing after her sample in Lisbon showed up an abnormal level of testosterone. A normal level, expressed as a ratio to epitestosterone, is 1:1. Her sample was said to be 42:1.

Brown said he was still convinced of her innocence and denied that he would have any reason to resign if she was not eventually cleared. "My first responsibility is to athletes who are in the position of being my patients," he said. "I think the BAF understand that."

The BAF statement said that the five-strong panel was "satisfied that the specimen tested was that of Mrs Modahl. There was no suggestion of tampering. The committee considered very carefully the issue of degradation and its possible effects.

"Having heard all the evidence and considered all the documents, the committee was satisfied unanimously beyond reasonable doubt that a doping offence had been committed by Mrs Modahl."

If Modahl's ban, which is retrospective from 18 June, stands, her subsequent victory in the European Cup will be annulled - as will the British women's performance in coming fifth in the World Cup, given that Modahl's victory was crucial to their qualification.