UK Athletics has announced a major review into whether mistakes were made in its handling of the Alberto Salazar scandal – and especially its decision to clear Mo Farah to continue training at the Nike Oregon Project after concerns were raised about the now-disgraced coach in 2015.
The independent review, which will be led by the respected sports barrister John Mehrzad, comes after Salazar was banned for four years in October by Usada for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct”. Salazar has since said he will appeal against the ban and no NOP athlete, including Farah, has ever been found to have taken a banned substance.
The review will pay particular attention to a 2015 audit, led by UKA’s performance oversight committee, which found there was “no reason” to be concerned about any British athlete or coaches involved with the Oregon Project in the wake of an explosive Panorama investigation into Salazar.
At the time many in athletics expressed their concerns about the audit’s lack of scope, given it was not asked to examine the doping claims against Salazar but rather Farah’s training programme with the Nike Oregon Project and the endurance programme within the Oregon Project itself.
There were also fears about whether the committee could be seen as a whitewashing exercise, given it was led by former athletes Jason Gardener, Dr Sarah Rowell and Anne Wafula Strike – all with close ties to UKA – rather than experienced sports lawyers or investigators.
As the Guardian pointed out in 2015, while Usada’s inquiry into Salazar was run by the top American lawyer Bill Bock and the former New York City police detective Victor Burgos, UKA had asked three athletes to jump in at the deep end.
Steve Magness, whose allegations against Salazar were a key part of Panorama’s documentary, said that he had a 30-40 minute interview which he described as “just a sham”.
The review, which has the potential to heap further embarrassment on crisis-hit UKA, which has lost its chief executive, performance director and chair – and failed to hit its medal target at the recent world championships – in the space of 10 months, is expected to be completed in the spring of 2020.
To make matters worse, it was revealed this month that UKA’s decision to stage last year’s World Cup in London on the same weekend as the Wimbledon finals and football World Cup had cost it close to £2m – while on Tuesday UK Sport also warned UKA that it risked a cut in its £27m lottery funding.
Announcing the review, the UK Athletics chair, Chris Clark, said: “The UKA Board recognises the seriousness of the Usada decision released at the start of October. It has unanimously agreed that an independent review should now be carried out with the aim that findings and recommendations are published in or around spring 2020.
“We need to ensure we have a clear way forward that gives us confidence in the integrity of our coaching efforts. If there are lessons to be learnt, we plan to implement any recommendations into a future focused, transparent and accountable way of working.”
Meanwhile Dr Rowell, the chair of the performance oversight committee in 2015, said she welcomed the announcement. “There has been much written about what the Oregon Project review looked into, found or concluded in 2015, and I therefore welcome this review as an opportunity to establish the full facts and for those facts to be published for all to see.”
The review will also examine UKA’s response to the Fancy Bears leaking of a draft Usada report into Salazar in 2017 and make recommendations about its future governance.
It will also probe whether UKA sought advice from UK Sport, UK Anti-Doping and Usada in 2015 and 2017 respectively – and, if so, did any of those bodies provide any formal response or guidance.
In a statement UKA said Mehrzad had “significant experience of conducting independent reviews in sport” having been the only legal member of the independent review panel that looked into the climate and culture of the world-class programme in British Cycling.
Mehrzad also chaired an independent review concerning governance issues within the British Equestrian Federation.