SII Focus 24th March 2020

UK Athletics prioritised performance & funding over ethics

An 130 page Independent Review has found that although UK Athletics’ (UKA) investigations into its relationship with Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) were reasonable, its decision to conduct an Internal Review led to allegations of a lack of independence and its inability to publish the findings led to suspicion. The 29 page Internal Review, commissioned in 2015 and published after the Beijing 2015 World Championships two months later, has never been made public, as it contains information on ‘every non-standard medical or non standard performance intervention’ administered to Mo Farah. Salazar coached Farah from February 2011 until 31 October 2017.

At the time, UKA was warned by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that its Internal Review shouldn’t consider anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs), as this could jeopardise their investigation into Salazar. He was sanctioned with a four year ban relating to three ADRVs last year.

‘We note that UK Athletics has taken the decision to publish the Executive Summary of the original Internal Review that was conducted in 2015 by UKA’s Performance Oversight Committee (POC)’, read an emailed statement from Nicole Sapstead, CEO of UKAD. ‘We have repeatedly requested that UK Athletics share this POC review with us in its entirety as there could be information included that is of interest to us. As the John Mehrzad QC Independent Review states (Page 9) only an edited PowerPoint summary of this report has been shown to us. We remind UKA that they are bound by the National Anti-Doping Policy. We now call again on UKA to handover this Review in full, including the associated supporting reports and documents.’

Salazar, UKA & Farah

Without expressly stating as such, the findings of the Independent Review (PDF below) suggest that UKA prioritised Farah’s performance and funding relating to it over any ethical concerns about his relationship with Salazar. In July 2015, UK Athletics recommended that UKA terminate a Consultancy Agreement with Salazar following allegations made against him in the 2015 BBC Panorama documentary ‘Catch Me If You Can’. However, its Board was divided over whether it could or should instruct Farah to terminate his coaching agreement with Salazar.

UKA terminated its relationship with Salazar in September 2015. But a new Consultancy Agreement was sent to Salazar in March 2016, which he signed and returned, technically continuing his relationship with UKA until December 2017.

The Independent Review’s take on whether the renewal of UKA’s Nike contract influenced its Decision…

The Independent Review states that there is no evidence that UKA’s inability to instruct Farah to terminate his agreement with Salazar was financially motivated. Nike, which sponsored both Farah and Salazar’s NOP, was renewing its UKA sponsorship contract at the time of its Internal Review. 

‘The Board chose to suspend the UKA relationship with Salazar in September 2015. Nevertheless, the UKA-Nike UK sponsorship agreement was then renewed on improved terms for UKA with effect from 1 January 2016,’ the Independent Review reads by way of conclusion. The new Nike deal was UKA’s ‘most lucrative sponsorship deal to date’.

It points out that Farah was the only UK athlete coached by Salazar, and he didn’t terminate his coaching agreement despite UKA’s September 2015 decision. Neil Black and Barry Fudge, UKA’s former Performance Director and Head of Endurance respectively, felt that UKA shouldn’t force Farah to sever his agreement with Salazar ‘for commercial rather than performance reasons’. Yet elsewhere, the Independent Review states that the ‘performance team was also concerned that Farah leaving Salazar/the NOP would negatively impact on UKA performance (and related UK Sport funding)’. 

Some members of the UKA Board felt that Black & Fudge’s position amounted to ‘blackmail’…

UKA Executives expressed concern that Black and Fudge’s position, which was that they would resign if UKA forced Farah to sever his agreement with Salazar, was a form of blackmail. Black and Fudge disagreed, arguing that their ability to deliver medal targets set by UK Sport would be compromised if Farah was forced, against his will, to terminate his agreement with Salazar. However, failure to meet medal targets could compromise funding provided by UK Sport to UKA.

The Independent Review found that UKA delayed discussions with Farah about terminating his coaching agreement until after the Beijing 2015 Worlds. It points out that UKA told UK Sport that Salazar was unpaid, despite him being paid coaching bonuses in relation to Farah’s performances at London 2012; Moscow 2013; Beijing 2015; and Rio 2016. It highlights that these bonuses were paid out from UKA funds, not UK Sport money. However, UK Sport provides funding of up to £28,000 per year for Olympic podium finishers.

Given the above, it does at least appear that UKA may have been justified in holding concerns about the impact that severing Farah’s agreement with Salazar would have on his performance and, therefore, UKA’s funding. The Independent Review states that such a conclusion is ‘conjecture’ and is not based on evidence.

It mentions that there is no mention of Nike in any meeting minutes relating to the Salazar/NOP issue. Yet there were no minutes recorded at a key UKA Board meeting on 27 July 2015, which discussed the findings of the Internal Review. 

An email from Ed Warner, former CEO of UKA, mentions the outcomes from the meeting. These included suspending the Consultancy Agreement with Salazar, and the decision to delay outlining UKA’s concerns about Salazar to Farah until after the Beijing 2015 World Championships. 

Despite this recommendation, UKA sent Salazar a Consultancy Agreement, which he signed and returned on 22 March 2016, appointing him to the ‘honorary position of Endurance Advisor’. This was after it had severed its Consultancy Agreement with him on the advice of the Internal Review’s Report. As such, Salazar effectively remained a consultant to UKA from 2013 until December 2017, apart from a six month break between 18 September 2015 and 22 March 2016. 

The Independent Review also highlights that ‘there is no paper trail of Salazar being informed of the Board’s decision that his Consultancy was suspended pending the outcome of the USADA investigations’. It suggests that this is because the original agreement with Salazar was verbal rather than written, and because he only coached Farah and didn’t provide services to any other UKA athletes.

‘When first read, the 2016 UKA Salazar Contract was a concerning document’, admits the Independent Review. ‘On its face, it indicates that contrary to the Board’s decision in 2015, Salazar remained and ended continued to be an unpaid UKA advisor until December 2017 […] However […] the contents of the 2016 UKA Salazar Contract did not reflect reality at the time. Salazar simply did no carry out the role and responsibilities identified in the 2016 UKA Salazar Contract’. 

The view of an Executive about UKA’s claims on Salazar & Farah’s relationship…

Yet as indicated above, an ‘administrative oversight’ meant he signed and returned it in March 2016 and technically remained as an unpaid UKA Consultant until December 2017. And his only UKA role was coaching Farah.

A UKA Executive told the Independent Review that “there’s a certain amount of sophistry” in the Decision to suspend the relationship between UKA and Salazar, but for Farah to continue being coached by him. The Executive told the Review “you could interpret this [the Board’s decision] as severing something that doesn’t really exist because it makes a point, but doesn’t change anything”. The Report doesn’t dispute this analysis.

L-Carnitine

UKAD & USADA also had no concerns about Farah’s L-Carnitine injections…

The Independent Review also highlights that in July 2015, UKA’s Internal Review team ‘became aware’ that Farah had received L-Carnitine injections. This led to telephone calls between Black and Fudge, which led on to the retention of information on medical interventions involving Farah as part of the Internal Review. The findings were shared with UKA and with UKAD and USADA, ‘who also did not raise any concerns with UKA about any of the interventions given to Farah’.

However, Fudge and Black knew about the injections in 2014, as uncovered by BBC Panorama. The Independent Review doesn’t explain why UKA only ‘became aware’ of the injections in July 2015. 

It does explain that for ten months of the year, Farah was not at the NOP and during that period, Salazar’s key contact for his athlete was Fudge. And BBC Panorama discovered that Fudge flew to Zurich five days before the 2014 London Marathon to obtain L-Carnitine for Farah on Salazar’s instructions.

Farah denied receiving L-Carnitine injections when questioned by USADA…

A year later, in line with Salazar’s incorrect advice to all his NOP athletes, Farah denied having received L-Carnitine injections when questioned by USADA. Immediately after the interview, Farah met Fudge who reminded him about the injections which Farah claimed he had forgotten about.

L-Carnitine is not prohibited and in 2014, intravenous infusions or injections were only prohibited if they exceeded 50mL over a six hour period. Dr. Rob Chakraverty, who has recently left his role as doctor to the England football team, said that the infusion fell within permissible limits. 

However, no record was kept detailing the L-Carnitine infusions administered to Farah, as highlighted in the Combatting Doping in Sport Report (PDF below) published by the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee of the UK Parliament. In the Report, Dr. Chakraverty admitted the injections were “to help performance”. It called for the General Medical Council (GMC) to investigate. It is understood that no investigation was launched.

It also appears that despite telling UKA it had no concerns, USADA continued to investigate whether Farah had received L-Carnitine injections, which led to the 2015 USADA interview investigated by BBC Panorama. As there are no medical records, we only have Dr. Chakraverty’s word that the Farah’s infusions fell within permissible limits. 

Win at all costs

The Independent Review is correct to point out that UKA cannot be criticised for failing to investigate doping. Firstly, this wasn’t within the remit of its investigation. Secondly, there was no doping to investigate – only potential anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) relating to administration of prohibited methods. Thirdly, UKA was expressly told by UKAD and USADA that investigating any ADRVs was outside of its remit. 

Although UKA’s and Dr. Chakraverty’s lack of record keeping regarding the L-Carnitine injections received by Farah creates suspicion, there is nothing to suggest that they weren’t within permissible limits. In addition, contrary to popular belief, Salazar has not been convicted of doping or administering a prohibited substance or method to any athletes. 

Salazar was sanctioned with a four year ban for administration of a prohibited method; tampering or attempted tampering; and trafficking of testosterone. All were due to experiments on staff and family members designed to ensure that NOP athletes didn’t commit ADRVs. USADA did not meet its burden of proof regarding an ‘attempted administration’ charge relating to NOP athletes.

What the Independent Review investigated, in short, is whether UKA’s method of dealing with the relationship between UKA, Salazar, and Farah was acceptable. The allegations against Salazar were serious. UKA only had a tenuous link with him, as its Consultancy Agreement had lapsed and the only British athlete he was involved with was Mo Farah.

UKA had no power to order Farah to end his coaching relationship with Salazar…

Farah only spent two months of the year at the NOP, and he was the only British athlete coached by Salazar. The Independent Review is correct to point out that UKA had no power to order Farah to end his relationship with Farah.

But what it appears to uncover is that UKA didn’t really want to end the relationship. It took until September 2015 to end a Consultancy Agreement that was not in use anyway, and which was renewed (albeit not in practice), apparently by accident, in March 2016.

The Review highlights concerns that ending Farah’s relationship with Salazar might impact his performance and, therefore, UKA funding. It concludes that Nike’s renewal of its sponsorship wasn’t a concern when taking decisions relating to its relationship with Salazar. 

But Nike sponsored UKA, Farah, the NOP and Salazar. In a situation where all three parties have the same sponsor, it appears odd that there was no discussion about the impact of UKA’s decision on its relationship with Nike. Why UKA would consider the financial impact of a potential drop in Farah’s performance and not the impact that ending his relationship with Salazar could have on its Nike contract is not explained. The Independent Review calls this ‘conjecture’.

At first sight, UKAD’s terse response to the Independent Review also appears odd. It takes issue with the publication of an Executive Summary of UKA’s 2015 Internal Review, included as Appendix D. UKA has not been able to publish the full 29 page review because it contains information on all medical interventions applicable to Farah. This may be why UKAD is keen to get its hands on it.

In August 2017, UKAD told the Mail On Sunday that it had closed its investigation into whether three British athletes had been supplied with erythropoietin (EPO), concluding that the medical files supplied to reporters had been faked. UKAD previously told The Sports Integrity Initiative that it couldn’t elaborate on who had faked the documents and why, due to ongoing criminal investigations.

The reporters involved in the investigation insist that the medical documents are genuine. It also appears that UKAD investigators never asked them to supply the documentation, raising further questions that UKAD cannot answer because of its policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and because of the ongoing criminal investigation. When that will be completed is anyone’s guess.

There is no evidence that any of the three athletes were Farah, as the reporters involved in the investigation have not revealed the identities of the athletes. However, this article outlines that Farah has trained in areas of Kenya where authorities have failed to tackle the supply of EPO to athletes, and with a pacemaker who arranged to buy EPO in an undercover investigation. 

In July last year, an indictment by French prosecutors against Lamine Diack, former President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and his son, Papa Massata Diack, alleged that British athletes, including a Gold medalist and ‘sports icon’, were involved in blood doping at the London 2012 Olympics (video below). The athlete was not named.

As such, it would appear that UKAD may be keen to get its hands on any other information that could shed light on these situations. Farah has previously said that he would be happy for any of his samples to be retested. Does that compliance extend to allowing UKAD to scrutinise his medical records within UKA’s Internal Review?

In conclusion, all the Independent Review has uncovered is the ugly ethos of elite sport. The win at all costs culture creates pressure to take shortcuts and risks. Financing is linked to success and as such, sporting bodies and their advisors are prepared to take risks that their staff are uncomfortable with – such as L-Carnitine injections – in their pursuit of glory.

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