Why Lizzie Armitstead’s Rio go-ahead raises questions

Lizzie Armitstead won her anti-doping rule appeal. Picture: Getty.

Lizzie Armitstead won her anti-doping rule appeal. Picture: Getty.

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“There is a truth to sport,” was one of the memorable remarks made by Lord Coe in his rousing speech at that mesmerising Opening Ceremony in London four years ago.

As we all know there are also a lot of lies and betrayal in sport too, with the doping cloud dominating the lead-up to the Rio Olympics the latest dismal example. But one thing is almost certainly true – some, perhaps even many, clean, fair and honest Russian athletes will not be in Rio, punished for the crimes of others.

So be it, is the blunt opinion of many here in Britain and around the world, because the scourge of cheating has reached such a tipping point, culminating in the revelations about the state-sponsored Russian disgrace, that extraordinary measures must be taken in the fight to keep that “purity, drama, intensity and spirit that makes sport irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch,” as Coe continued in his speech four years ago.

That’s what makes the 
Lizzie Armitstead situation so uncomfortable for those who argue that a blanket ban on the Russians is the only option. The British cyclist is not guilty of cheating, she has never failed a test and had her appeal upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after facing a ban for three violations pertaining to her whereabouts for drugs tests. However, 
awkward questions arise along with the inescapable comparison of how we would react if the case had involved a Russian.

Armitstead was Britain’s first medallist of London 2012 four years ago with silver in the road race on The Mall and is one of the favourites for the same event in Rio on Sunday.

CAS upheld her appeal after finding UK Anti-Doping’s control officer had failed to follow procedure and her August 2015 missed test was declared void.

Athletes must make themselves available for testing for one hour each day and inform testers of their location. Armitstead has two further missed tests on her record and a further absence would lead to a rule violation and sanction. She was charged by UKAD with three whereabouts failures on 11 July, leading to a suspension pending disciplinary action.

The first came at a World Cup event in Sweden in August 2015 when hotel staff refused to provide a tester with the cyclist’s room number and subsequent early morning calls to her mobile were missed as it was on silent while she slept. Armitstead was 
tested in competition the 
following day. The second was an administrative failure on her own part in October 2015 and the third was missed in June of this year following “an emergency change of plans due to a serious illness within her family”.

The response from UKAD was revealing as chief executive Nicole Sapstead said her organisation was awaiting the reasoned decision from CAS, but made the point that the first and second absences had not been contested until the third happened.

Sapstead said: “Ms Armitstead chose not to challenge the first and second whereabouts failures at the time they were asserted against her. At the CAS hearing, Ms Armitstead raised a defence in relation to the first whereabouts failure, which was accepted by the panel.

“We are awaiting the Reasoned Decision from the CAS panel as to why the first whereabouts failure was not upheld.”

Armitstead is not the first British athlete to have trouble with the whereabouts programme. Christine Ohuruogu, the 2008 Olympic 400 metres champion, was banned for a year in 2006 after three missed tests.

It emerged last year that Mo Farah, pictured below, had gone into his triumphant 2012 Olympics sitting on two missed tests, while Scottish 800m runner and passionate anti-cheating advocate Lynsey
Sharp admitted she had missed one after a late change to travel plans.

The whereabouts policy is brutally strict but three strikes seems fair and there is flexibility attached with the ability to update it via app, text message, website or email at any time. Adhering to its relentless demands is the price paid by athletes in return for the privilege their talents provide.

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