Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe

20 Aug Time to think the unthinkable if athletics is to thrive once more

Paula Radcliffe is really quite cross that people keep questioning the cleanliness of her results. There has never been any serious suggestion that she broke the rules – but why does she not want to share her blood data?

Of course, there is the very strong argument: why should she? She has never been under any suspicion and so shouldn’t be backed into a corner to prove that she is clean. But surely someone who is so vocal on drugs should be judged differently? Unless she knows that the data will be ruinous to her reputation as the cleanest of the clean. Whether it is a point of principle or not, here is one of the leading global figures in anti-doping saying that transparency is not the answer. I find that troubling.

If Radcliffe wants people to stop asking questions about whether she is clean or not then she should just put it all out there. She will always be under some superficial suspicion because of how good she was – and it is wrong to suspect just because of brilliant performance. Unless you are Paula that is: ‘’I am not going to name names, but it must be obvious to anybody in the sport that some of the improvements people have made are suspicious,” she once said – clearly missing the fact that her marathon world record is a full three minutes better than her nearest rivals. In her autobiography, she also talks of how disturbed she was by the performance of Wang Junxia in setting the women’s 10,000m world record. I am sure Junxia was equally perplexed on watching Radcliffe win marathons by a literal mile.

The point is that – as Paula says in her fawning interview with the BBC – you can never conclusively prove that you are clean. But Eightlane has long argued that athletes need to be absolutely transparent in order to protect the integrity of the sport. This is why it would be a great idea for all test results to be public record and for athletes to be forced to list the medication and supplements they are on. The general public would be really shocked to know what is ‘allowed’ so long as you have a doctors’ note. They’d be even more shocked to hear of some athletics associations actively promoting such phantom prescriptions.

Radcliffe is a clean athlete. She has never been proven otherwise and her status as the greatest marathoner of all time will probably last for the rest of her life (no one has ever got near it and I see nobody on the horizon who might). But for such a prolific campaigner for the sport to be cleaned up, she surely has to step up herself, swallow her indignation and start to show the world that transparency is the pathway to clean competition.

Talking of transparency, wasn’t it nice to see Lord Coe elected as President of the IAAF? In the wake of all the scandals that currently beset the sport, it is great news to have such an able politician in place to sort everything out. The major revelation of the day was the fact that the sport now belongs to the good Lord. In every interview he conducted, we heard ‘my sport this’ and ‘my sport that’. It is nice to know that his Presidency will not be similar to that of the personality cult practiced by his good friend Sepp Blatter just down the road at FIFA.

A number of us at Eightlane have been against Coe winning the Presidency for a host of reasons, but chiefly because he is an insider with no motivation to change anything. A career sports politician does not climb the greasy pole without an exceptional ability to not rock the boat. Hence we had his bizarre proclamations last week that ‘war had been declared’ on his sport (it belonged to him even then). This ‘war’ was not from the athletes under suspicion but by those pesky journalists who kept shoving their noses in. Now where have we heard this before? Perhaps Coe has been taking lessons from Sepp in crisis management.

Ed Warner, the UK Athletics Chairman, was giddy with excitement on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday morning. Something of a man-crush was clearly in evidence as he waxed lyrical about his man’s attributes. But does he really believe that the ‘great’ Seb Coe can sort out the mess? And let us be clear – the sport is a total mess at the moment. Coe has been a Vice President of this mess since 2007.

Coe thought that Juan Antonio Samaranch – the man that covered up numerous doping scandals and brought the IOC to its knees – was ‘an inspirational man’. His brilliant success as FIFA’s ‘ethics tsar’ has been well proven in recent months. And this is before we even get started on Lord Coe’s business interests. Like the company he chairs recommending the destruction of the spiritual home of athletics at Crystal Palace. How will that inspire the next generation of track and field talent?

The truth is that doping is the least of the sport’s worries now. We have all been distracted by it since the German revelations at the end of last year. But participation is down and the global brand is failing dismally to match its competitors. The sport takes too long, isn’t accessible to a wider audience and is suffering from major credibility problems. Many of the individual events could and should be culled from mainstream competition. And the sport’s global following revolves almost exclusively around one man – Usain Bolt – who himself appears bored with the whole thing.

As with Paula’s dated attitude to the opaque sharing of biological information, this presidential election needed the athletics community to think the unthinkable. It isn’t nice to have to share your blood data when you have done nothing wrong. And many of the changes the wider sport needs to make won’t feel very nice either – particularly to those affected. But if this sport is to survive, such discomfort will need to be endured. Instead, we are to be left with the same old excuses just packaged slightly differently.

James Fairbourn

  • ukathleticscoach

    ‘She never performed on a big stage(Olympics, Worlds..) ‘

    She won the world championship marathon in addition to the world xc twice.

    Other banned dopers eg Alptekin have won the Olympics so your point is incorrect, both theoretically and factually.

    • DavidRudisha

      You are right, I made a comment without checking it out. I see she won Worlds in 2005 and XCs. Factually it is not about results, it is about doping. Of course she had results, but I believe on a big stage controls were still more rigorous than at London marathon in those times. And we can debate about it for ever, if you actually really believe with any doubt that she was 3 min more better than anyone else even in these times, when marathon have evolved – training methods have changed and conditions for training for Ethiopian, Kenyans, etc that is what is worrying to me, especially if you are a coach. If we were talking about some Kenyan or Russian that had results like her, you would probably doubt them being clean, that is part of the problem: we want to believe that our athletes are clean and athletes from the other countries are the ones cheating.

      • ukathleticscoach

        If you were knew anything about athletics you would not need to check it out.

        David Rudisha (I assume you are just using his name) won the 2012 Olympics front running 140.9 without a pacemaker nearly a second faster than the 2nd place runner. Does that make him a doper?

        Drug users dope in training not just before big races so the time to catch someone is out of competition. UKA has an out of competition system where the athlete has to guarantee they are in one place for 1 hour every single day. They also have had access to blood tests for the past decade. Kenya does not have the former system and only had any access to blood testing due to lack of laboratories in the past year Russia has a record of numerous middle and long distance runners being banned especially over the past 5-10 years. London marathon has actually had blood testing for the past 10 + years unlike most city marathons. The results are sent to IAAF to check independently.

        The athletes running 3 mins slower than Paula were in world terms 2nd raters. To equal or beat the marathon record you need someone of the quality of the Dibaba sisters running the marathon at their peak. That has not happened. 2:15xx looked fast when the men were running 2:04xx, now they are running under 2:03 the time does not look so exceptional.

        I don’t doubt that British athletes are doping but you need some proof other than fast times. Any doper should be banned for life in my opinion whichever country they come from.

        • DavidRudisha

          Well done on you, you know every result for every athlete in the world – who won what and that says how much you know about athletics. I know lots of spectators who know all the results and that does not make them knowledgeable about athletics.
          Yes I am using his name and I can not say if he doped as we cannot be sure for anyone these days. I did not say that running fast makes you a doper, but to run that much faster than anyone else have done in years and to put Paula in to the same rang of quality as Dibaba sister is nonsense (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirunesh_Dibaba) . Dibaba sisters are one level higher than Paula in everything except marathon and halfmarathon – Tirunesh ran 2:20 in London… When Paula ran 2:15, only two men: Paul Tergat and his pacemakeer to the WR in Berlin have run 2:04:55, so there were not men who ran that. Then it took great Gebresellasie to go sub 2:05 in 2007. So as marathon times progressed with man, elite women marathon runners never got closer than sub 2:19 9 years later, what is your explanation as a coach for this fact.
          It would be really great if Paula would release her data, so we know what is so.
          I agree all the dopers must be banned and no cutting the bans etc. Same rules for everyone.
          I know well someone who was caught in doping, very nice person, won medals in big competitions etc. and when the athlete got caught , I was stunned. If someone asked me before that to name one athlete who you are certain they don’t dope I would name that friend who has great personality, helped so many people around and always forthcoming with helping kids and youngsters in athletics. We spoke few times after that and when I heard what is happening in the background I was even more stunned. At that time lots of athletes had same doctors, used same clinics to store their blood and they all knew about each other.. Later on few names came out that got mentioned in our conversations. That got me really down to earth that I cannot trust anyone and that doping much more spread than it appears in athletics.

          • DavidRudisha

            BTW, that was in the beginning of new millenium , the times when Paula was at her best as well.

          • ukathleticscoach

            I don’t know every result but would make sure I knew about an athlete before accusing them of doping.

            Do we have the data for Rudisha or the Dibaba sisters. I think she should release the data but is every athlete doing this?! Eveyone knows the Chinese girl was doping and now Dibaba beat her time and trains in a country without out of comp blood testing. I’m not accusing her of doping so maybe you should do the same

            As to the Dibaba sisters you seem to want to argue the toss just for the sake of it. Did I say Paula was better than them on the track. I was using them as an example of a runner who could beat Paula’s times if they concentrated on the marathon.

            Women’s times tend to lag behind mens because there are fewer women competing at the top level than men. They also were not allowed to compete at the marathon at the Olympics until 1984 and are still playing catch up.

            You lost you argument from the start by not knowing that Paula had won world titles and should have quit instead of persisting. Stop arguing for the sake of it

            • ukathleticscoach

              ….and one more thing Dibaba was past her best when running 2:20 in London in 2014. I said at her peak she or an athlete of a similar calibre could have run comparable or better than Paula at the marathon.