Pray for Mo Farah: the doorbell tolls for thee
The Times says Mo Farah, the London 2012 Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres gold medal-winner, has hired Freud’s, “one of the world’s biggest PR companies”. It won’t make him run any faster, but it could keep him in delicious, performance enhancing (it says here) Quorn.
Farah’s named is being sullied because Alberto Salazar, his American coach, has been accused of breaking anti-doping rules. Farah and Salazar deny any wrongdoing.
Mo’s innocent. But the story of his innocence is a messy one.
Farah could have faced a ban for avoiding drug testers had UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) not believed his claim that he did not hear the doorbell when they called at his home in Teddington, southwest London, in 2011. The test was the second that Farah had missed in the run-up to the London Olympics, having missed another in 2010. Three missed tests within an 18-month period, at the time, would have resulted in a ban. Farah had claimed that he was in his bedroom and could not hear the doorbell, but had the testers believed that he was deliberately not answering the door, UKAD could have charged him with evading a test, the penalty for which would have been an immediate suspension
But they could not. Is Mo hard of hearing? Was the radio on? The Mail says the testers rang Farah’s door “for an hour”. Did they also call his phone? Poke him on Facebook?
Also in the Mail, the headline above Martin Samuel’s article oozes:
Nation must hope and pray that Mo Farah’s only error is being absent-minded
Oh, what balls. #prayformo is not trending on twitter. Samuel says it’s not a case of knocking a man when he’s up. But this is the same Daily Mail, which when Farah had a twitter spat with athlete Andy Vernon asked if it was the moment when the “mask finally slipped”. The inference was clear: Farah was a fake. And as Rick Broadbent notes in the Times, Mo’s PR is not as good as his PBs:
He [Farah] refused to speak to the Daily Mail after it ran a story on his family, and incurred the incredulity of all media when he said they would have to buy his forthcoming book to find out the names of his newborn twins.
So much for the PR. Now Graham Arthur, UKAD’s director of legal, will explain the rules:
“A missed test doesn’t mean someone has deliberately not opened the door or has hidden in the bathroom for an hour. If we thought that had happened, we would take action against them for evasion and ban them from trying to hide from the testers. If we are satisfied that they have just been negligent and not wilful, they get a missed test. If we felt someone was there and just deliberately avoided the testers by not answering the door, we would take action. Those cases are going to be difficult to prove, because the standard of proof that we are bound to is pretty high. But if we have evidence that somebody is trying to evade, we take action.”
Farah’s innocent, then. Clear. But here’s Samuel, his hands pressed together in prayer:
The world of athletics was lining up to explain how easy it is to miss a drugs test. Doesn’t make you a cheat, they said. Doesn’t mean you dope. And of course it doesn’t. Then again, it doesn’t make you innocent either.
Wrong. The rules have been explained to us all.
That’s the problem with a miss. You never know. Nothing can be presumed. That’s why the athletics authorities take it so seriously.
The myth is that a missed test is common. It suits those who miss to say that. But it isn’t. In 2010, for instance, there were 394 athletes in the National Registered Testing Pool. They would each be tested three times a year minimum, and as many as nine times maximum. Let’s allow for a conservative ball park average of five tests per individual. So that works out as 1,970 NRTP tests a year. And how many were missed? Just 43. So this isn’t something that happens to many athletes once, let alone twice. This isn’t routine.
Just 43. Just. But none of that matters because you need to miss three. Is it fair, then, to keep gunning for Farah? Here’s what Samuel wrote in 2010:
The golden girl of British athletics is Christine Ohuruogu, who missed three drugs tests. Not that you have heard much of that since the Beijing Olympics. [Manchester United footballer Rio] Ferdinand missed a single drugs test, too, six-and-a-half years ago as you will no doubt grow sick of being reminded now he is England captain. Yet, if he has not transgressed since, if he has learned and moved on, surely there comes a time to allow him to escape the past, the way we would any professional who has messed up.
The alternative is to continue breaking butterflies on wheels, the spectacle of which will tell more of us than it ever will of them.
And here is Samuel today:
There was a worrying spike in whereabouts offences by British athletes in the year before the London Olympic Games, too. Meaning a missed test is a big deal, and just one can incur a ban, if the anti-doping legislators believe an athlete has been deliberately evasive.
If. Believe. Those rules are getting a little more vague in the Mail. But the facts keep getting in the way of a good story: Farah missed two tests not three.
Anxious emails were sent warning of the dire consequences of a third no-show; Farah’s agent Ricky Simms went to significant lengths to dispute the second miss on the grounds his client hadn’t heard his doorbell. All of this indicates a developing crisis treated with huge significance at the time. And if it was big for Farah then, it most certainly is for British athletics and the Olympic movement now.
And that doorbell again:
He was at home in Teddington when the testers called in 2011. His house was not huge. They rang the doorbell, which he said was hard to hear from his bedroom. Simms made a video attempting to prove this. And, of course, it is a plausible explanation. A person doesn’t always hear the bell at home, or even a knock at the door… Yet testers don’t ring once and depart. They hang around, for the allotted hour the athlete is supposed to be available. They knock. They try again.
And however many times they knocked and rang, Farah never heard them.
What Farah says is this:
“Over the course of my career I have taken hundreds of drugs tests and every single one has been negative. I’ve fully explained the only two tests in my career that I have ever missed, which the authorities understood, and there was never any suggestion that these were anything more than simple mistakes. The last two weeks have been the toughest of my life – with rumours and speculation about me that are completely false – and the impact this has had on my family and friends has left me angry, frustrated and upset. In particular, the media pressure on my young family and my wife, who is five months pregnant, is extremely painful, especially as I’m away training for some important races. As I made clear, I went to Portland to speak to Alberto Salazar and demand answers. He reassured me that the claims are false and that he will soon be providing evidence to make that clear. Until then I will not be commenting further on the allegations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fans, family, friends and team-mates for all the great support they have provided over the last few days and hope that I will now be allowed to focus on my training and winning medals for my country.”
Good for him.
Anorak’s view is clear: legalise all science that doesn’t damage the athlete.