UK Athletics board changed stance on Alberto Salazar, report finds

By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
PA Media: Sport

Performance staff at UK Athletics lobbied the organisation not to sever ties with American coach Alberto Salazar when doping allegations surfaced in 2015, an independent report has found.

The UKA board had been set to recommend that 5,000 metres and 10,000m Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah end his relationship with Salazar at that point, after allegations against the American were made in a BBC Panorama documentary.

However, an independent report published on Friday found performance director Neil Black and head of endurance Barry Fudge had indicated their positions would be “untenable” if there was a severing of the relationship with Salazar.

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Farah was ultimately given a choice of whether or not to continue working with Salazar, and he chose to stay with him.

Sir Mo Farah, right, pictured with Salazar, centre, and Galen Rupp, left (Martin Rickett/PA)
Sir Mo Farah, right, pictured with Salazar, centre, and Galen Rupp, left (Martin Rickett/PA)

Some members of the UKA board told the independent report’s author, John Mehrzad QC, that this stance from Black and Fudge was “in effect blackmail”, something they denied.

The Mehrzad report was commissioned by UKA in November last year, to look at internal reviews conducted in 2015 and 2017 into the relationship between UKA, Farah and Salazar, and his Nike Oregon Project (NOP).

The commissioning of the independent report came after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned Salazar for four years for anti-doping violations. He has appealed against the sanctions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Black left his role at UKA at the end of October last year.

The 2015 review was prompted by the Panorama programme, while the second in 2017 followed the leaking of an interim USADA report on Salazar.

Following the 2015 review, UKA suspended its unpaid consultancy arrangement with Salazar for reputational reasons but ultimately gave Farah the final decision on whether to continue his coaching relationship with the American – something he continued to do until October 2017.

The 2015 internal review concluded there was “no concern” in allowing the relationship between Farah and Salazar to continue.

The 2017 review did not bring any change to that relationship either, with USADA advising UKA that taking unilateral action based on a leaked report would be “reckless”.

However, UKA did not know that in June 2017 USADA had charged Salazar. UKA said in a statement on Friday that if it had, the board would have severed all ties immediately.

UKA did not know that Salazar, pictured, had been charged by USADA in 2017 (Martin Rickett/PA)
UKA did not know that Salazar, pictured, had been charged by USADA in 2017 (Martin Rickett/PA)

Mehrzad concluded the decisions taken by both review groups “were reasonable at the time” but criticised the fact that the suspension of Salazar’s consultancy arrangement was only delivered verbally, rather than in writing.

The report also referred to a consultancy contract sent to Salazar in 2016 – after the suspension of UKA’s arrangement with him – but concluded that this was “an administrative oversight” rather than “an orchestrated conspiracy”.

It also said the statement issued at the conclusion of the review in September 2015 could have been better phrased, saying some of the language in it could have been “reasonably perceived as definitive” even though the scope of the review was limited under the instruction of USADA and UK Anti-Doping.

Mehrzad also criticised the failure to take minutes of a special board meeting in July 2015 when review findings were presented.

The report also highlighted concerns some contributors had over Jason Gardener and Anne Wafula-Strike, members of the performance oversight group which led the 2015 review. Certain report contributors were not convinced they had the understanding and skill sets required to apply themselves to the review process.

Jason Gardener’s suitability to be part of a UKA internal review team was questioned by contributors to an independent report (Barrington Coombs/PA)
Jason Gardener’s suitability to be part of a UKA internal review team was questioned by contributors to an independent report (Barrington Coombs/PA)

Gardener acknowledged that the carrying out of an internal review was “not (his) expertise” while Wafula-Strike explained she was initially hesitant in her own mind about carrying out the review because she had “no experience”.

However, when the focus shifted from doping allegations to reviewing the management system around Farah, she was confident in her ability to fulfil the role.

UKA accepted Mehrzad’s recommendations to ensure all future reviews be conducted independently, that reviews should be conducted in such a way that they could be published in full, to strengthen the coaching code of conduct, be more rigorous in its approach to following up on board recommendations and to ensure accurate and timely minutes are taken of board meetings.

The code of conduct will be strengthened to allow UKA to suspend an employee or consultant where a serious allegation has been made, and to make it an obligation on coaches to inform UKA of all developments they are aware of regarding any anti-doping-related matters.

Farah has never failed a drugs test and is not accused of any wrongdoing.

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