Saturday 21 April 2018

Drug-cheat catchers vow there will be no repeat of scandalous cover-ups that 'sabotaged' London 2012

A police officer holding vials of blood-booster EPO. CREDIT: REUTERS
A police officer holding vials of blood-booster EPO. CREDIT: REUTERS

Ben Rumsby

The men in charge of catching drugs cheats at the World Athletics Championships have promised those watching that there will be no repeat of the scandalous cover-ups found to have “sabotaged” London 2012.

The chairman and chief executive of the new Athletics Integrity Unit told the hundreds of thousands of ticket-holders and millions of television viewers for the biggest event at the London Stadium since the Olympics and Paralympics they would stop at nothing to expose any wrongdoing there.

British fans cheering what they thought was the country’s greatest sporting summer in 2012 were left doubly deceived when a succession of athletes - mainly Russian - cheated their way to gold only to escape action for years in the biggest doping scandal in history.

It only recently emerged that Sebastian Coe’s predecessor as head of the sport, Lamine Diack, had contrived to cover up drug taking, along with several other senior officials at the International Association of Athletics Federations.

The IAAF formed the AIU in April, surrendering control of anti-doping and other integrity matters to an independent body in a bid to restore trust in the sport’s approach to combating all forms of corruption.

London 2017 represents the first major test for the new unit chaired by David Howman, who quit the World Anti-Doping Agency last summer after 13 years as director general.

“There won’t be cover-ups; there won’t be controversies that have gone on for a long time without people knowing about them,” Howman told The Daily Telegraph on the eve of the championships.

Chief executive Brett Clothier, who led the Australian Football League’s integrity unit for more than eight years, added: “The rules are black and white. If there is something there that needs to be followed-up on, investigated or prosecuted then we’ll do it.”

In Howman and Clothier, the IAAF have replaced one of the most corrupt regimes in sport with two of the biggest crusaders against such activity.

The AIU will deal with all types of integrity issues, including betting fraud, and age and results manipulation.

But it will be its success hunting down drugs cheats by which it will be judged ahead of a World Championships at which 600 urine tests will be conducted, with the same number of blood samples having been collected prior to the event.

Usain Bolt warned this week the sport “will die” if athletes continue to dope, an intervention applauded by Howman.

“Stand tall, speak up,” he said, sporting a wristband bearing that slogan. “He did it. That’s what we need.

“Doping is a curse; no doubt about it. Doping has to have a change of culture in the sport; no doubt about it.”

Howman would not provide details of the investigations being conducted by the AIU or the precise scale of the alleged wrongdoing being probed.

He added: “We have work to do but I would hope it’s not going to be at the same level as the Russian stuff.”

A German television documentary this week aired bribery and cover-up accusations against the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya, which has denied any wrongdoing.

Revealing Kenya had been on his radar even while he was at Wada, Howman said: “Obviously, the team will see if there’s anything to it.”

For now, the focus is on ensuring London 2017, which has smashed all records for ticket sales, is remembered as the best World Championships ever and not the dirtiest.

Urging those watching to “enjoy the moment”, rather than fret about whether they could trust what they saw, Howman said: “If there is something that is strange or suspicious, it will be investigated. We can guarantee that.”

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