London Evening Standard

UK Athletics chief on the challenges facing British Olympic champion amid the doping storm surrounding his coach

Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics, has had a traumatic week. The doping allegations surrounding the coach of his most iconic athlete, Mo Farah, sent shockwaves throughout sport.

BBC’s Panorama alleges that Alberto Salazar had provided testosterone to one of his athletes, Galen Rupp, in 2002 when the Olympic silver medallist was just 16.

There is no suggestion that Britain’s double Olympic champion is involved but a distraught Farah withdrew from last Sunday’s prestige Birmingham Grand Prix and flew back to Oregon to confront his coach.

Despite the storm, Warner is calm as we talk on the lawn of his London club. He is, however, fully aware of the long-term effect of these allegations.

“The shame for Mo is that, if all this is proven to be unfounded, it will still be out there for ever,” he says. “People have memories. The internet enables one’s memory to be stronger. We are not going to cut our support for Mo. We continue to oversee his entire programme. He is one of our iconic athletes. But this whole thing has the risk of reputational damage for him.”

The controversy has damaged Farah’s preparations for the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, where he will attempt to retain his 5,000 and 10,000metres titles.

Those championships are in August and before then there are key warm-up events such as the Anniversary Games in London on July 24 and 25.

Warner says: “Mo getting back on the track in the course of the summer and doing great things will be an important part of the healing process.”

In response to the controversy, UK Athletics have launched an inquiry and Warner remains confident that nothing “untoward”, a word he uses often, will emerge.

“We are completely conscious of all that is going on with Mo,” he says. “Mo consulted us in 2011 when moving from Alan Storey, his previous [British] coach, to Alberto in Oregon. He felt this had the potential to get that extra x per cent out of him which would make the difference between someone placing in the top 10 and someone placing in the top three. And Alberto has taken him to Olympic golds and other victories.”

Farah lives in the United States but because he receives Lottery funding he has to provide UK Athletics with details of his training programme and coaching networks.

Warner says: “Barry Fudge, who is our head of endurance and has worked with Mo for years, oversees the entire programme of which coaching is one element.

“But, being on the other side of America, we do burn some air miles. Barry regularly flies out to Oregon and Mo is here often as well. They see each other a lot. They will speak much more frequently, using Skype and other modern technology, and will be in very regular contact.”

The inquiry, which is being carried out by three non-executive directors of UK Athletics, will assess Farah’s medical records as well as the set-up surrounding him and the UK Athletics endurance programme.

“We’ll use the help of external experts to see whether there is anything unusual that needs explanation,” says Warner. “They may well spot irregularities. I don’t believe they will because we’ve been assured by our staff they won’t. The inquiry is all about that reassurance that the faith of our staff in the system is well placed.”

Warner accepts that, for all the checking his staff do, the system of athlete control relies on “a significant element of trust”. But he argues this is no different to how a football club work.

“Chelsea may see every one of their players turn up for training but they don’t see what they do from the minute they drive away from the training ground until they drive back the next day. They can’t have a GPS attached to them 24-7. So you are always trusting people to do what you instruct them to do. Mo is a highly accomplished, experienced athlete. He knows what he has to do. I am sure that, when the review has played itself through, there will be nothing untoward there.”

The problem for Warner is he cannot be sure how long the review will take but he hopes it will report before the World Championships. Only the key findings of the report will be made public. “It would be completely unreasonable to unveil intimate medical details on an athlete,” says Warner.

So, in the meantime, should Farah not cut his links with Salazar?

“If I was a personal friend of Mo who had nothing to do with British athletics, I might have said to him, ‘the best thing to do is suspend the relationship for now. You have got the World Championships coming up. You want to operate at peak performance there. Let the allegations against Alberto be washed through by USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) and see where it leads’. But I am not a close personal friend of Mo. He has to make his own decision and I completely respect his loyalty to his coach.”

What makes the issue even more complicated is that Salazar is a consultant for UK Athletics. “That came about because of Mo,” says Warner. “What our performance team saw in the work that Salazar was doing with Mo impressed them and they believed there was a lot we could learn from the expertise of the Oregon Project. That is why he became an unpaid consultant of ours in 2013.”

Despite the allegations, Warner does not hesitate to praise Salazar. “In the couple of years he has been consulting for us, we have learned a lot. Some of our younger coaches and our performance department are beginning to benefit from those learnings.”

Warner refutes allegations that UK Athletics had known for two years about allegations against Salazar and did nothing. “What I was told by David Bond, the then BBC sports editor, was that they were looking into Mo Farah. There was nothing about Salazar or Rupp. After Bond left the BBC [last year], I had no contact with the BBC.”

Warner’s answer to those who say UK Athletics should suspend Salazar immediately is: “He is innocent until proven guilty. We will make a decision when the review is completed.”

UK Athletics might also have to consider whether to continue their link with Nike, which funds the Oregon project and employs Salazar.

“We are comfortable with the Nike association because they are great supporters of what we do,” says Warner. “They have been innovative with us. Nike UK has worked closely with us to promote athletics and athleticism. Their ambitions closely mirror our own.”

So is he not worried about Nike sponsoring Justin Gatlin, who has served two doping bans? “That is not a  decision  I would have taken. That is out of my control.”


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