Test of patience awaiting Modahl

Norman Fox says the 800m runner must rely on the BAF's political skills
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The Independent Online
DIANE MODAHL will learn this week whether she needs to continue pleading her innocence after winning her appeal against a four-year ban for taking drugs. The International Amateur Athletic Federation are demanding a third test on the remains of the controversial sample, and remarks by some of their officials suggest that they are determined to uphold the ban, but the British Athletic Federation could put forward a proposal that would allow the IAAF to exonerate Modahl while not casting doubt on its drug-testing procedure.

Because the BAF's inquiry panel originally concluded there was "no reasonable doubt" about Modahl's guilt, they are under some obligation to atone for their initial error. To find a credible way for the IAAF to back down over the absurd idea of having a third test on a sample that has now been stored for months in a variety of conditions may seem unlikely, but is not beyond them.

There is little evidence that the world-wide testing procedure carried out by the approved laboratories is in itself open to error. The system for testing testosterone is years old and has rarely caused serious problems. No one disputes that the specimen tested by the Lisbon laboratory did contain astonishingly high levels of testosterone, but the question of why remains. Last week Modahl won the right to ask the question, not only on her own behalf but also for thousands of other athletes who have come to question the drug-testing system.

All the evidence suggests the sample was degraded by inappropriate storage. If this is the case, the IAAF could be asked to condemn not the system but the people responsible for carrying out the process. They would admit no more than that if they upheld Modahl's appeal and cleared her name completely.

Such a decision would bring enormous relief to all athletes, not just those who always believed Modahl was innocent but even club competitors who fear that sooner or later another mistake will be made and another victim suffer a false accusation. Roger Black spoke for them all last week when he said: "We feel afraid of our next drugs test."

The IAAF council meets in Gothenburg tomorrow and for most of next week, but at present Modahl's case is not on the agenda. However, Istvan Gyulai, the IAAF general secretary, has already said a third test would show whether the elevated levels of testosterone were caused by heat or had been in the body. Whether the subject gets a fair hearing depends on the chairman of the IAAF's medical commission, Professor Arne Ljungqvist, who has shown a close interest in the case from the beginning.

Ljungqvist has always taken a hard line on drugs, to such an extent that athletes, such as Solomon Wariso who innocently take pick-me-ups or cold relief medicines believing they contain no banned substances, receive little sympathy. He insistns that even the slightest trace of a banned substance be construed as a stimulant and therefore evidence of cheating.

Ljungqvist could possibly be swayed by evidence put forward at Modahl's appeal alleging that the Lisbon laboratory was negligent and that even when an IAAF representatives went there to demand a third test they were told that the person in charge, Dr Jorge Barbosa, was not available. The lack of co-operation between Lisbon and the IAAF remains a line of hope for Modahl.

Peter Radford, the BAF's executive chairman, and the IAAF's president, Primo Nebiolo, are expected to meet today. The outcome could be crucial in deciding whether the IAAF can waive their arbitration system. It is not unknown for Nebiolo to ignore the views of his own staff. This week should reveal whether good judgement will prevail.

The irony is that probably no country has done more than Britain to overcome the drugs problem. Radford could regale Nebiolo with tales of athletes being asked to produce specimens on holiday, at home or at airports. Every top athlete has a story to tell, but there are no complaints. So when it is plain a mistake has been made, British athletes are furious that Gyulai can dismiss the compelling evidence in Modahl's favour as "only a remote theory".