Mo Farah has recruited a team of crisis management experts to quell the public relations storm surrounding him after more questions were raised about his two missed drugs tests before the London 2012 Olympics.
by Owen Gibson and Sean Ingle of The Guardian
Farah, who won 5,000m and 10,000m gold at the Games, was revealed to have missed tests in 2010 and 2011, the second of which came after he failed to hear his doorbell. However, anti-doping officials on Thursday confirmed they would have tried repeatedly to rouse him during the hour in question by knocking on his door every 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile Nicole Sapstead, the UK Anti-Doping chief executive, said that, while she was not at liberty to discuss individual cases, it was “not common for athletes to miss two tests” in a 12-month period. A third missed test would have counted as the equivalent of a failed drugs test and could have led to Farah receiving a possible four-year ban.
Farah, who is training in Font Romeu in France, is now taking advice from the public relations agency Freud’s, which calls itself “the world’s leading strategic marketing and communications consultancy”. It is also well-known for providing discreet advice to clients and celebrities.
One expert with intimate knowledge of the situation called Freud’s “experts in crisis management”. Given the intense focus on Farah during the past fortnight, the agency will need to be.
It is also understood that Farah wants to put his side of the story but feels unable to speak until his coach, Alberto Salazar, has responded fully to allegations that he broke anti-doping rules. A further complication is that Farah’s agent, Ricky Simms, also manages Galen Rupp, the American who was also accused by the BBC’s Panorama of wrongdoing.
Among the charges against Salazar are that he gave the banned steroid testosterone to Rupp when he was 16, coached him to get a therapeutic use exemption so he could use an intravenous drip before the 2011 world championships and flouted several other doping rules. Salazar and Rupp deny all allegations and Farah has not been accused of anything illegal.
However, Farah is facing renewed scrutiny after a report in the Daily Mail, which revealed an email exchange between Ukad and Farah’s representatives suggesting the runner missed one test in 2010 and another in early 2011 shortly after he had joined Salazar’s training group in Oregon.
The paper said that Farah had stated he did not hear the doorbell when missing his second test and that his agent, Simms, submitted video evidence filmed in Farah’s house in which he tried to show that it was difficult to hear the doorbell from his client’s bedroom, due to a noisy altitude machine used to help athlete’s breath oxygen-reduced air to improve performance. Ukad decided despite the video that Farah was guilty of negligence in missing the test, rather than the more serious offence of evasion, which could carry an automatic ban.
Under the so-called “whereabouts” system introduced in 2009 elite British athletes have to specify where they will be for an hour a day in each 24-hour period. During that time testers can turn up unannounced.
Graham Arthur, Ukad’s legal director, said that the agency followed a “detailed protocol” if an athlete did not answer the door to a doping control officer immediately at the prescribed hour.
“They are required to make reasonable efforts to locate the athlete. Ringing the doorbell every 10 or 15 minutes, knocking and staying for the full hour,” he said. “We often ask them to stay just past the hour on the off-chance the athlete is running late. We want to collect the sample, we don’t want them to miss the test.”
Arthur said that, if Ukad had evidence that an athlete was deliberately avoiding testers, it would attempt to take action under Wada’s code for evasion, which carries a ban of up to four years. But he conceded that such cases could be difficult to prove, with Ukad having to prove to a standard of “comfortable satisfaction” that the athlete was deliberately evading the testers.
Sapstead added: “One missed test isn’t serious for us. Clearly if an athlete acquires a second one, it escalates our concern because they are that much nearer to three. They have three chances at this before they face a sanction.”
Ukad published figures showing that during 2010 there were 43 missed tests among the 394 athletes across all sports in its elite testing pool. In 2011 it rose to 66 of 365 and in 2012 stood at 40 of 361. Each of those athletes would have been tested at least three times in a 12-month period.
Arthur added: “Three strikes is the rule. That’s the formula that has been agreed by Wada, sport and government that strikes the correct balance between their privacy and an athlete who might make one or two genuine mistakes and an athlete who evades the system. Once an athlete has made one mistake, our experience is that is usually enough and they comply with the system after that.”