No drive to clean up athletics, expert tells Coe

Lord Coe: 'So'called experts'. Picture: Getty
Lord Coe: 'So'called experts'. Picture: Getty
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ONE of the experts at the centre of allegations that the International Association of Athletics Federations turned a blind eye to potential mass doping in the sport has written an open letter to Lord Coe accusing the world governing body of lacking the drive to clean up the sport.

Michael Ashenden was one of the two anti-doping experts enlisted by the Sunday Times who analysed leaked data from the IAAF, which contained more than 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes, and concluded hundreds of athletes had recorded suspicious results which were not followed up.

The IAAF has come out fighting in the wake of the allegations, criticising exercise physiologist Ashenden and fellow expert Robin Parisotto, with Coe particularly outspoken. Coe, running for the IAAF presidency, called the pair “so-called experts” and branded the allegations a “declaration of war” on athletics.

In an open letter of more than 2,000 words to Coe yesterday, Ashenden wrote: “Does the IAAF pursue its anti-doping mandate with the same single-minded, all-consuming dedication that athletes adopt in their pursuit of winning? Based on what I saw in the leaked database, my view is ‘No.’”

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced an urgent investigation into the claims.

In his letter, Ashenden estimated there were “likely to be 500 athletes who cheated, competed, and got away”. He also accused the IAAF of not doing enough to combat the particular problem of widespread doping among Russian athletes.

“It is clear from results in the database that serious problems emerged in Russia around 2005,” he wrote. “Yet the IAAF chose not to join other sports, such as cycling, cross country skiing, biathlon and speed skating, who had adopted ‘no-start’ rules in an attempt to stem the tide.

“It is true even those rules can be circumvented, but it is undeniable that they place something of a ceiling on competitor’s blood values. I recognise that hindsight is 20/20, but, in my view, the IAAF could have done more when the spectre of widespread Russian doping first appeared.”

The “no-start” rule allows the use of data from biological passports to keep athletes with abnormal values out of competition for a certain period of time.

Ashenden added: “How then will history view the performance of the IAAF anti-doping department, if it was aware in August 2008 that systematic doping might have penetrated Russian athletics?”

The expert pointed to the case of Liliya Shobukhova, a winner of the London Marathon and a three-time winner of the Chicago Marathon, who has now been stripped of those titles for doping. He said: “Two years after Shobukhova first won the Chicago marathon [in 2009] with highly abnormal blood results, she won a third Chicago marathon with even more extreme blood values. The Sunday Times published an extensive expose on Shobukhova, who they reported was the top female marathon runner in the world during this period. My question to you is: Do you think the IAAF could have done better?”

Ashenden said it would be worth revisiting the no-start rule “at least for World Championships and major marathons”.

He added: “All that remains is for the IAAF to legislate a ceiling of normality beyond which athletes will be unable to compete. Now that would truly be an example of the IAAF pioneering the way.”

Ashenden also said setting up an independent body, funded but not controlled by the IAAF, to take responsibility for anti-doping, was “a no-brainer”.

Coe has pledged to set up an independent anti-doping agency for athletics inside his first 100 days in office should he be voted in as IAAF president.

Ashenden also called on the governing body to increase the amount of money it invests in catching cheats. He said: “It comes back to how single-minded the IAAF chooses to be with respect to the pursuit of drug cheats. Is it reasonable for athletes to ask the IAAF to cut back on glamorous gala presentations and dedicate those savings toward establishment of an investigations department?”