© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

In 1608, William Shakespeare wrote the rhetorical saw “then which you neuer spake truer words,” or “No truer words were ever spoken” which may apply today to a Paula Radcliffe quote. 

“I think it has polarised athletics.”

She was referring to the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) decision to suspend the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) coach Alberto Salazar for four years.

The global response from the announcement has been swift and divisive. Not everyone agrees fully with USADA’s process or the outcome of the ruling, while some former Salazar-coached athletes have thrown him under the proverbial bus.

Sir Mo Farah said, “I’m relieved that USADA has, after four years, completed their investigation into Alberto Salazar.”

While not fully committing to an accusation that Salazar cheated, he delivered two independent thoughts in one statement, which edged closely to an indictment.

“I left the Nike Oregon Project in 2017 but as I’ve always said, I have no tolerance for anyone who breaks the rules or crosses a line. A ruling has been made and I’m glad there has finally been a conclusion,” he told the Independent.

Those are rich words coming from an athlete who has been associated at times with Somali coach Jama Aden, who was arrested in Sabadell, Spain in a raid that has implicated nearly two dozen East African athletes. Farah, for his words, risks even greater scrutiny than he already invites.

Radcliffe, during the broadcast of the 2019 IAAF Doha World Athletics Championships tried to explain that the anti-doping authorities (USADA) fumbled the Christian Coleman case. And added that they are “shooting in the dark for testing and are woefully inadequate at effective out of competition testing around the globe.”

Coleman defended his case and proved that USADA botched his provisional suspension. The suspension was lifted and he competed in the world championships winning a gold medal in the 100-metre sprint

Radcliffe told Athletics Illustrated, “Some of the comments by USADA-tested athletes about how they can call testers and meet them elsewhere are also concerning since these are not the same rules as athletes in Europe are subjected to. It should be unannounced and you should be where you stated you would be in whereabouts.”

Her words were misunderstood, but there is truth to them. For example, Kenyan Asbel Kiprop claims to have received a call one day in advance for one of his tests by the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). 

Kiprop, a Kenyan 1500m Olympic gold medallist also claims that he paid the testers a small amount of money when they asked for it. He claims that he didn’t think at the time that it was a bribe, but he ended up testing positive for EPO and was handed an eight-year ban.

At the time, he told media that when he left the room to get money, that’s when the testers must have done something to his urine sample.

Polarising may be an understatement, but while the anti-doping movement is gaining momentum those gains are complicated by fits and starts.

“While absolutely rules were broken and rightly punishments have been handed out, I can’t help but feel this process [Salazar investigation] took far too long to come to a conclusion,” added Radcliffe.

She said, “Alberto Salazar indeed tried to push the boundaries and perhaps was in the grey area that was unethical and it was determined as cheating, yet he didn’t deliberately intend to cheat. That should be punished and he should accept that, however, I feel conflicted by the time and resources that went into this and frustrated at the lack of advancement being made into what deliberate cheats in our sport are doing and taking and how to catch that.”

Recently ZDF, a German broadcaster, exposed what they believe to be widespread and fairly open doping going on in Kenya – a country once heralded as developing clean, naturally talented athletes of near super-human ability. The wheels in Kenya continue to fall off the bus. They were exposed before the 2012 London Olympic Games by another German broadcaster ARD TV and journalist Hajo Seppelt.

Seppelt also helped expose systematic Russian doping that eventually led to the ban of the entire Russian athletics team. That suspension continues today. Some people are calling for a Kenyan ban.

“This [Salazar ban] is an advancement for whistleblowers and sanctions of coaches and their entourage. I think that it is hard to herald it as a huge success for anti-doping authorities in the light of the Coleman affair and when they are still shooting in the dark for testing and are woefully inadequate at effective out of competition testing around the globe,” said Radcliffe. 

She also feels for the Pete Julian-coached group as now they may be ‘tarred with the same brush’. Julian also coaches at Nike. 

In contrast, Dick Pound who created WADA and is a former president feels that the decision was likely justice served, especially if the panel was independent but he doesn’t know all of the details. He is a little surprised by the length of the suspension.

Pound told Athletics Illustrated, “I should have thought that a longer suspension might have been warranted in the circumstances, where coaches and medical practitioners were involved. Perhaps the saw-off at four years was the “cost” of unanimity in the decision (if unanimity there was), but I have not seen the decision itself.”

Meanwhile, American Jenny Simpson feels that Salazar should have earned a lifetime suspension. Her comments made the famous Quote of the Day at Let’s Run:

“Get him out. If you cheat, you get banned. I’m a believer in lifetime bans. I wish it was longer. Don’t cheat …”

“Anybody who knows any(thing) about this sport knows there is a black shadow, a black cloud, whatever the analogy you want to make, over that group. Why anyone chooses to be a part of that group I have no idea. Anyone that is shocked isn’t involved in the sport …”

“I don’t think you can be that closely affiliated with anyone and not have people point fingers and I don’t feel sorry for you if you’re closely affiliated with somebody that has a four-year ban and you’re there, but I’m not going to be the judge and jury of specifically which athletes are cheating and which aren’t. I’m going to let USADA and WADA judge that.”

Jordan Hasay, long coached by Salazar defended him to the media.

Regardless if he is indeed guilty or not, the timing of the announcement appears to have been done for maximum effect. The day after announcing his suspension, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) reached out to each of Salazar’s athletes and informed them to sever ties with the coach.

Additionally, his credentials as a coach were revoked for the 2019 IAAF Doha World Athletics Championships, which are currently in progress.

The polarisation in the global athletics community regarding this decision will continue.