BBC World: Why Did IAAF General Secretary Nick Davies Write a Passionate Letter to LetsRun.com Instead of Issuing a More Traditional Statement

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by Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
December 12, 2014

Yesterday LetsRun.com published an exclusive letter by IAAF General Secretary Nick Davies written to me that strongly defended the IAAF against the allegation that it did not follow up and target for drug testing 150 athletes with suspicious blood levels from 2006-2008 as alleged by German TV station ARD in the third installment of its investigation on doping in athletics. The British press picked up on the story of the 150 athletes and the Telegraph used language such as “suggesting a cover-up by (the) athletics world body.”

In his letter, Nick passionately defended the IAAF and said that “any half educated fan of athletics who has an interest in the science of anti-doping should know” a single suspicious blood value is “worthless as evidence of doping, but is used as a MARKER.” Nick’s letter is strongly worded and not that long; you can read it here if you missed it yesterday.

Today, the BBC World Service picked up on the story and reported Nick’s strong words in his letter to LetsRun.com and then had a discussion on why he wrote such a personal letter to LetsRun.com instead of issuing a more traditional statement. The BBC host asked, “That does beg the question though why he has written a letter to a website rather than issue a statement on behalf of the IAAF” and the reporter responds, “It is slightly unusual. He feels very strongly about this clearly. The usual protocol is to issue an official statement and not such a passionate defense of IAAF policy, particularly to a niche website mainly known to people who follow the sport or those within the industry… It is a surprise.”

You can listen to the full audio below. It’s two minutes long.

In case you didn’t listen, as the BBC says of Nick’s letter, “It’s a very passionate defense of the IAAF’s policies and very, very strong criticism for former IAAF officials who have reported to have told these documentary makers that there’s some sort of cover-up. He uses words like ‘cowardly’ and ‘disgraceful’ to describe these whistleblowers and he says ‘they are hiding in the darkness and should not be allowed the possibility to destroy reputations with information taken clearly out of context.'”

I’m not sure exactly why Nick wrote me, and I’ll admit to getting a chuckle when I heard one of my favorite radio programs, BBC World Service, start discussing why he wrote me as I was driving in my car today. LetsRun.com may be a “niche website” but we’re the largest journalistic voice in the world that covers the sport daily and I’ll take Nick’s letter as a testament to what we do. If anyone is going to get beyond headlines of a “cover-up” it is educated fans of the sport and that is what you’ll find on LetsRun.com.

I do disagree with Nick on one point. I reserve the right to change my mind on this after talking to anti-doping experts, but for now I’m not against the names from 2006-2008 being published with their blood values. I know many would disagree with me, but a blood value is a factual thing. It’s like saying someone’s hair is brown. Since single blood values do not imply doping, then publishing athletes’ blood values would instill confidence that doping tests are not being covered up. If the 2006-2008 names with unusual blood values come out and we learn the athletes were followed up for testing and passed the test, there is nothing the athletes or the IAAF have to hide.

(In cycling, I believe some teams publish their blood values to instill confidence and I know a rider accused of doping has published his as well trying to clear his name.)

Instead of having increased faith in the system, the opposite is happening. Blame it on sensationalist reporting if you want, but the reason why is almost irrelevant. Perception is almost as important as reality given how little publicity track and field normally gets. Yesterday, I got an email from a guy with a very smart person (he has an advanced engineering degree) with the subject “big doping coverup” that linked to the Telegraph article mentioned above “suggesting a cover-up by (the) athletics world body.” The emailer said this is “more evidence that doping is rampant in Kenya.”

Everyone is already under suspicion. We have evidence of bribery and World Marathon Majors champion Liliya Shobukhova‘s test being covered up by the Russian doping authorities. (We at LetsRun.com received emails earlier this year or maybe late last year from an anonymous source telling us of the Shobukhova test cover-up and to start asking around about it. If you are that source please email us again, your confidentiality is assured. It turned out to be true). Louis Brandeis said “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” and I think releasing the names from 2006-2008 and the subsequent tests would restore confidence in the system. At the very least if the names are going to remain private, let an independent journalist in on the IAAF commission investigating the claims, with the condition the names will remain private if there was no cover-up. I don’t think many people trust any entity to investigate itself these days.

*Nick Davies’ Letter to LetsRun.com
*BBC Audio Broadcast

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