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Senegalese athletes angered by World Cup bonuses

The decision by President Macky Sall to pay Senegal’s football squad its World Cup bonus despite the team not hitting its target has caused anger for some in the West African nation.

The African champions had been tasked with reaching the quarter-finals but bowed out in the second round after a 3-0 defeat by England.

The World Cup bonuses – which come out of the pool of nearly $23m (£19m) unlocked by the Senegalese government to cover the World Cup costs – will differ depending on the involvement of the 26 players in the entire campaign, including qualifying.

However, some former players and other Senegalese sportsmen have questioned the move.

“If you win you must be rewarded, but if you lose you must learn from it,” former Teranga Lions forward Diomansy Kamara told local newspaper Stades.

Despite its generous nature, Sall’s decision was even less favourably received by athletes from other sports who traditionally have to fight to fund their own participation in competitions.

Small bonuses, long wait

Hamadel Ndiaye is a Senegalese triathlon champion trying to reach the world series and qualify for the Olympics but despite working as a cameraman in London to help with costs, he has often been unable to afford flights that would have enabled him to compete.

He admits to feeling put out when learning that supporters would have free passage to watch the Teranga Lions in Qatar.

“Firstly, I was disturbed when I heard the story about the nice amount of money unlocked to bring fans to Qatar,” the former swimmer, 26, told BBC Sport Africa.

“In both 2019 and 2021, I wanted to participate in a race but the flight ticket to Dakar was $850 (£705) and I needed to pay another $120 (£100) for my bicycle as extra luggage but I couldn’t afford this.

“Sometimes we have to wait until the last minute to know if we can participate or not.”

Senegalese triathlon champion Hamadel Ndiaye

Ndiaye’s viewpoint is backed by up athlete Sangone Kandji, who represents Senegal in the triple jump and says such situations are happening far too often, preventing athletes from “acclimatising” at event venues and thus affecting results.

“This year, at the Islamic Solidarity Games, we arrived late in Konya and one of the athletes landed the day before his race. Those things need to be reviewed so that we can help the athlete to recover (from their trips).”

After her triple jump title at June’s African Athletics Championships in Mauritius, Kandji adds she was rewarded with a “modest sum”.

Olympian Ndeye Binta Ndiongue is a Senegalese fencer also fighting to earn a living, and who was only paid last year for results-related bonuses dating back over a decade to 2008.

“This year, I won the bronze medal at the African championship and the bonuses are yet to come my way,” she told BBC Sport Africa.

“(The funds for football) bring frustration even if I understand that it brings sponsors and excitement to the whole country.”

According to Ndiongue, a Senegalese gold medal holder in fencing is awarded roughly $650 (£539)after a continental title, a sum likely to be dwarfed by that received by the footballers.

‘Ministry of Football?’

African triple jump champion Sangone Kadji is among the Senegalese athletes put out by the Teranga Lions’ World Cup bonuses

In addition to frustration over the bonuses awarded to the Teranga Lions, these other athletes are also constantly troubled by the attention lavished on football in comparison to other sports.

“Football is the priority and everybody knows it – all the African federations suffer from this,” insists Diongue.

Last December, Guy Marius Sagna, one of the opposition leaders, backed the various athletes when the sports minister’s budget was voted on at Senegal’s National Assembly.

“This is a long, ongoing debate – is he the sports minister or the football minister?” Sagna poignantly asked.

“Sports like karate or taekwondo brought world medals. Football has never brought world medals, but the way football is taken care of has no comparison whatsoever with karate or taekwondo.”

“If I am not wrong, the budget of the Senegalese Athletics Federation is around $50,000 (£41,000). For the football Lions, the budget for one single friendly game is between $485,000-$810,000 (£398,000-£672,000),” Sagna added.

In response, Sports Minister Yakhouba Diattara promised “there is no sport we will not support”.

“I think the solution is to have a meeting every year between the Olympic National Committee, the government and the different federations to arbitrate,” he continued.

“The sports that we believe have a chance of winning medals will receive funds. The others will have to wait.”

Infrastructure before athletes?

As she continues a life where funds are in short supply, Diongue focuses on her own training plan while teaching fencing to children in the French town of Asnieres-sur-Seine.

“My coach accepts me for free because he understands I can’t pay 2,000-4,000 euros (£1,763-£3,526,$2,125-4,250) a year,” she explained. “Before the 2020 Olympics, I had three jobs but ended up with burnout and almost gave up.

“Thankfully, I had my family, friends and coaches to help me and I also received donations – I managed to get 3,000 euros (£2,650, $3,200) in total.”

When she finally received her bonuses after her participation in her first Olympics, it was mainly to cover her debts.

The Dakar Arena has been hosting BAL matches since it opened in 2018

As Senegalese authorities prepare to host the 2026 Youth Olympics, the first Olympic event in Africa, new infrastructure is being built or renovated in and around the capital Dakar.

During the last Games in Tokyo, nine athletes represented Senegal, but the nation’s only Olympic medal remains the silver won by 400m hurdler Amadou Dia Ba in Seoul in 1988.

Once again, what could appear a solid investment for the future continues to cause angst among some of the athletes hoping to shine for Senegal in future senior Olympics.

“There were a lot of investments made with the stadium or Dakar Arena, yet these are not used most of the time during the year,” Hamadel Ndiaye points out.

“The equipment in the gym there is barely used and I think it’s a shame because it would be easy to gather a national team and organise training camps.”

Viola Lagat aims to honour the late Agnes Tirop

Kenyan marathon runner Viola Cheptoo Lagat says she will be driven by the desire to win for murdered compatriot Agnes Tirop during Sunday’s New York Marathon.

Lagat finished behind Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir on her marathon debut in the American city last year before dedicating her silver medal to Tirop, who was found dead at her house three weeks prior to the event.

But the 33-year-old is determined to go one better at this year’s famed five-borough race as she aims to honour Tirop.

“I’m going to work hard to win for her this time,” Lagat told BBC Sport Africa.

“My mind is in a good place and I’ve got really good training in this time around. I feel stronger and I know the field is also strong, but I know the spirit of Agnes is still going to fight with me like last time.

“I don’t want to let anyone down, especially the spirit of Agnes that has fought with us from the beginning.

“It’s going to be a tough field, but I’m going in feeling strong and I hope most of my hard work in the last few months is going to take me through.”

Lagat clocked two hours 22 minutes and 44 seconds in New York last November – which remains her personal best marathon time – crossing the line five seconds behind winner Jepchirchir.

Lagat faces competition from fellow New York Marathon medallists Ababel Yeshaneh and Peres Jepchirchir

She was one minute and three seconds slower as she finished sixth in the Boston Marathon in April this year, but is expecting another fast race in the ‘Big Apple’ this weekend.

Tirop’s Angels

Tirop finished fourth in the 5,000m at the Tokyo Olympics in August last year and Lagat was with her a few weeks later when she smashed the women’s-only 10km world record in Germany, crossing the line in 30 minutes and one second.

READ MORE

 

Adam Gemili dropped from UKA funding

Adam Gemili, who has finished fourth in past world and Olympic finals, has dropped off UK Athletics’ top funding level after a run of poor form.

The 29-year-old was eliminated in the 200m heats at the World Championships in Oregon in July and failed to make the Commonwealth Games final in August.

Gemili has been retained as part of Britain’s 4x100m relay squad.

European 400m champion Matthew Hudson-Smith and 100m star Daryll Neita have been promoted to the top funding level.

Neita who won 100m bronze in both Munich and Birmingham, was the fastest woman to fail to make the World Championship final in Oregon and set a new personal best of 10.90 seconds at the Commonwealth Games.

Gemili was initially picked for the top ‘Olympic podium’ level of UK Athletics’ world class programme funding structure last season, but was removed in December after opting to stay with coach Rana Reider.

The American is being investigated over multiple complaints of sexual misconduct.

Gemili, who cited “bad press” as one of the factors in his poor performance in Oregon, subsequently left Reider’s set-up in August.

Gemili, who is now coached by London-based Italian Marco Airale, has come under pressure for his place in the relay team.

He was part of the quartets that won world gold and silver at London 2017 and Doha 2019 respectively, but 23-year-old Jona Efoloko was preferred in Britain’s bronze-winning foursome for the final in Oregon.

Marathon runner Callum Hawkins, who is making his way back from an ankle injury, has also been left off the top level of funding along with Lynsey Sharp, who had her first child in October 2021 and has not raced since 2019, and long jumpers Abigail Irozuru and Lorraine Ugen.

Doping questions after breaking Record were ‘crushing’

Ciara Mageean has said it was “crushing” for some people to raise doping questions on social media after she smashed the Irish 1500m record.

Mageean took 2.22 seconds off the previous record, set by Sonia O’Sullivan 27 years ago, at a Diamond League meeting in Brussels in September.

“It was very tough,” Mageean told BBC Sport when asked how it felt to hear about comments that appeared on social media after she produced the record time.

Mageean’s new Irish record – 3:56.63 – was part of a remarkable summer for the Portaferry runner, who won Commonwealth and European silver before her first first sub four-minute run over the distance helped her defeat Laura Muir to win the meeting.

“I wasn’t aware of those things until the very end of my season because whenever I did find out, it was a bit crushing, it was upsetting.

“The week after, when I had finished my season, I was a bit down, because I was like ‘why are people saying this?’.”

Mageean won silver for Ireland at the European Championships in August. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

She added: “I know the athlete that I am, that I toe the line as a clean athlete. I want to hang my spikes up proud of the athlete that I am, and I will.

“I don’t think it will ever make it easier for me, for people to ask such things. They are entitled to their own opinions but I know that I am clean and that performance is all based on me.

“It is tough, but athletics is a sport in which we are very open and honest about drug cheats in our sport and we hold them to high account and we make them accountable for the mistakes and choices they have made.”

Mageean followed up her impressive win over Muir – who had beaten her to gold at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships – with another strong performance in the Diamond League 1500m final a week later, finishing second behind Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon in Zurich.

Her Irish record of 3:56.63 was considerably faster than the 30-year-old had run at that distance in races building up to that meeting, but she said anyone who had followed her season would have known she was capable of such a big performance.

And she added that a message from her coach, Helen Clitheroe, helped her deal with those posing questions about her record-breaking run.

“It [her record-breaking run] didn’t come as a surprise to me,” she continued.

“I knew I could go sub-58 and I thought I could go sub-57. I knew I was in really good shape so the .56 I was really ecstatic with.”

Olympic final target to make up for disappointments

Currently enjoying a trip home to County Down from her Manchester base, Mageean spoke of how satisfied she was with her performances this season – but has her eyes firmly fixed on her next two big goals.

Having chosen not to compete at this summer’s delayed 2021 World Championships, she is looking forward to the Worlds in Budapest next year – then, of course, there is the Paris Olympics in 2024, where she will be determined to reach a final for the first time in what would be her third attempt.

“I’ve been disappointed by the two Olympics that I have been to. I haven’t got my rings tattooed on me yet because I was always disappointed afterwards,” she explained.

“That might change as I’ve been trying to convince myself and Helen, and everyone who went, that it was an achievement being there, and hopefully we can go together and get that [the tattoo] done.

“Yes, the big focus is the World Championships next year and the Paris Olympics. How do I replicate the performances I have had now? I don’t have the answer but it is something myself and my team around me are certainly gong to try to figure out.

“Hopefully I can do it because that is the new pressure, to be able to be as good as myself again, to emulate that 3.56 and to continue to perform at this level that I know I have the potential to do.”

And, after a summer that saw her break that Irish 1500m record and win those silver medals, which did she enjoy most?

“The time is obviously fantastic and it has been a monkey on my back for some time,” she added.

“People in athletics would say that time means so much more than the medals in your hand but to be honest I always came into athletics to win medals. It is my aim to stand on the podium.

“To be able win a medal for Northern Ireland and Ireland in the same year, to represent them both is truly special. I wouldn’t trade these for any time, I definitely wouldn’t.”

Cannabis to remain banned substance in athletics

Cannabis will remain a banned substance in sport after a review by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was ruled out of the Tokyo Olympics after receiving a one-month ban for using the drug last year.

Wada agreed to review the cannabis ban after requests from “stakeholders”.

But it decided on Friday at a meeting of its executive committee to maintain the ban because the use of the drug “violated the spirit of sport”.

The ban for recreational drug use by athletes who test positive out of competition was reduced from two years to one to three months last year.

“Wada is aware of the diversity of opinions and perceptions related to this substance around the world, and even within certain countries,” director general Olivier Niggli said.

“Wada plans to continue research in this area in relation with [its] potential performance enhancing effects, its impact on the health of athletes and also in relation to perceptions of cannabis from athletes, experts and others around the world.”

In the UK cannabis is a class B drug and possession carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The organisation also announced that the painkiller tramadol is to be added to the list of banned substances for athletes in competition from 2024. ”

Tramadol abuse, with its dose-dependent risks of physical dependence, opiate addiction and overdoses in the general population, is of concern and has led to it being a controlled drug in many countries,” Wada said in a news release.

They tried to stop him, but the Ghost Runner always got away

Easter Monday, 1957. A heavy gloom settled over Doncaster as crowds gathered for the half marathon ending in Sheffield.

The starting area was swarming with race stewards, many carrying a photo of the man they had been instructed to stop at all costs.

To the officials he was a gatecrasher, a scoundrel who must be prevented from racing. To almost everybody else, he was a downtrodden champion battling injustice.

Runners now pressed forward as the start time neared. The local mayor raised his arm to the clouds and with the crack of his starting pistol, the race was under way. Seconds later, another sound ripped through the air.

A spectator huddled beneath a long coat and a large hat had thrown his disguise clear, revealing his racing attire as he jumped, numberless, into the race. The spectators thundered their approval, and the stewards flailed as he skipped around them to join the runners disappearing down the road.

John Tarrant’s sporting career fused triumph and tragedy. One of Britain’s finest long-distance athletes of the late 1950s and 1960s, he ran multiple world records but was denied his full share of glory by the stubborn authorities who banned him from racing.

Tarrant wouldn’t let them stop him. He was a dogged and brilliant competitor. A numberless outlaw. They called him the Ghost Runner.

Born in London in 1932 to parents John and Edna, Tarrant lived his early years in poverty but they were loving nonetheless. His brother Vic arrived in 1935 and, for a time, life progressed as childhood should.

However, in 1940, with their mother’s health failing and their father called up to man London’s anti-aircraft batteries, the brothers were sent to Lamorbey Children’s Home in Kent. There they would remain for the next seven years.

A stark setting at the best of times, life at Lamorbey was intensified by the terror of the Blitz. It got worse for the Tarrant boys. Two years later, their mother Edna died from tuberculosis.

It wasn’t until August 1947 that their father collected them. Recently remarried and with a new-born baby, he moved the family to the Derbyshire town of Buxton, on the edge of the Peak District.

In this beautiful and savagely hilly landscape, the young Tarrant took to running with a stubborn zealousness that quickly consumed him. It became his catharsis. Soon he was known for a capacity to push himself further than most would even consider attempting.

“He used running as his psychological help,” says Nicola Tyler, who is chair of the Ghost Runners running club in Hereford and was trained by Tarrant’s brother Vic for many years.

“After that kind of childhood, of course, you’re going to be angry and rebellious.”

In 1949, aged 17, Tarrant took up boxing and participated in Buxton’s inaugural fight night. He competed a further seven times over two years, earning himself a total of £17 – worth about £400 today. Full of heart but lacking much prowess, he quit the sport in 1951, blissfully unaware how damaging his inglorious stint as a professional boxer would turn out to be.

Various manual labour jobs came and went, usually discarded in search of more time to run. Even on honeymoon after his marriage to Edith Light in 1953, Tarrant took along his training gear. With his weekly mileage quickly climbing, he’d set his sights on the Olympics – but first he needed to join a club.

British athletics in the 1950s was governed according to a moral standard supposedly inspired by the Ancient Greeks but which stank of inequality and exclusion.

Held up as a symbol of integrity, amateur sports were not to be sullied by those who had ever received payment for competing. It was a rule which, as Britain clawed itself out of the wreckage of World War Two, disproportionately affected the poor.

Most got round the issue by simply not disclosing any earnings, but Tarrant felt it only right to formally declare his boxing exploits when applying to join the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA).

Two weeks later a letter arrived returning his six shillings subscription fee. He was informed that he was now banned from amateur athletics for life – including events such as the de facto British championships and trial races for Olympic selection. He bombarded officials with replies, pleading his case, but to no avail.

Driven by a burning sense of injustice, Tarrant and his brother Vic concocted a plan. Why not simply run unregistered in the AAA races? Not only would it allow him to compete, it might even spark a debate within the media.

Things began badly, however. Various misfortunes meant they arrived late to race starts in Macclesfield and Leeds. Nothing was left to chance when Tarrant arrived in Liverpool for the city’s marathon on 11 August 1956.

After discreetly changing, he wound his way through crowds to the start line, the only man without a number.

As the race began, he attached himself to the leading pack before bursting clear after 11 miles. Rarely one for finesse or race strategy, Tarrant would come with one gear – full throttle – and a relentless, almost reckless approach to competition.

In this case, his rookie exuberance held up until mile 19 when he was caught by the chasing pack. His body racked with exhaustion and cramp, he slumped to the ground two miles from the finish.

Despite this disappointment, Tarrant’s endeavours in Liverpool had caught the eye. After he gave an impromptu press conference before boarding the train back to Buxton, a new nickname spread, courtesy of the Daily Express: the Ghost Runner.

Over the coming years he would repeat the trick again and again, gatecrashing races across the country. As media attention and public interest grew, he would frequently need to slalom through a pack of stewards desperately trying to catch him at the start of races. When he won, which he began to do frequently, his success would be met either with eerie silence or a public scolding over the loudspeakers.

And yet, despite the official line, Tarrant had become a hugely popular character who would be cheered on by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of spectators.

“Tarrant was an unattractive human sledgehammer of a runner but with an indomitable spirit,” says Bill Jones, author of The Ghost Runner – The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Catch.

“He ticked all the right boxes in the 1950s of the young, angry, working-class hero.”

In 1958 a letter finally arrived from the AAA informing Tarrant that his ban had been overturned. Although exact reasoning was not given, the decision came just one month after Harold Abraham – 100m gold medallist at the 1924 Paris Olympics and influential member of various athletic committees – wrote an article highlighting crude deficiencies in the case against Tarrant.

But elation quickly gave way to renewed resentment. It emerged that while Tarrant had been cleared to run in British races, he would remain banned from representing his country internationally.

His dream of running at the Olympics crushed, Tarrant nonetheless went on to dominate the domestic scene, establishing himself as one of the best long-distance runners in Britain.

The 1960s saw him win a blizzard of events, including the London to Brighton 54-mile race twice, the Liverpool to Blackpool 48-mile race three times, and the Exeter to Plymouth 44-mile race five times. He set world records at 40 and 100 miles – to go with his Territorial Army 110-mile march record set in 1959.

But just as in Liverpool, there were also numerous races where he failed to finish, often because of the stomach complaints that plagued his career. On any given day he could reign supreme or be seen staggering away, arms clutched around his abdomen.

By the mid-1960s, a sense of dissatisfaction was setting in. The desire for a new challenge, and to compete around the world, now consumed Tarrant.

South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, linking Durban and Pietermaritzburg, describes itself as the oldest ultra-marathon in the world, stretching for about 55 miles through KwaZulu-Natal province.

In 1968 it was still an exclusively white male race. Black competitors, and women, were formally excluded. But a few still raced nonetheless.

Tarrant was among the interlopers that year, after South African officials rejected his application to run following pressure from the AAA. For the first time in his life, the Ghost Runner joined other phantoms on the fringes.

A fourth-place finish was more than respectable, but below par in the eyes of Tarrant. He returned the following year, this time while entertaining the idea of emigrating.

His second Comrades looked like being a complete disaster but was salvaged by a gutsy display that saw him finish 28th after suffering debilitating stomach issues along the way – far beyond what had seemed possible at halfway.

Tarrant took on the Comrades twice more, in 1970 and 1971, failing to finish both times. His dream of conquering the gruelling contest remained unfulfilled, but it did lead to arguably his defining moment.

During the 1969 Comrades, whispers began circulating about a new, multi-ethnic race that would be open to all. As the date neared, it remained unclear whether it would go ahead and how many – if any – white runners would compete.

On the morning of 6 September 1970, as runners gathered in Stanger for the Gold Top Marathon, a 50-mile race to Durban, there was a solitary white competitor: John Tarrant. He won it in five hours 43 minutes.

The following year the number of white runners doubled, with a 15-year-old Dave Upfold, who had begun training with Tarrant occasionally, also competing.

“We were expecting the police, maybe even the army,” says Upfold.

“In 1971 we simply weren’t allowed to compete together, but there was nothing.

“It was the start of the acceptance that people of colour could run, and run well.

“By 1975, the Comrades was fully integrated with women and all ethnicities taking part, and Tarrant was certainly part of that.”

Tarrant also won that 1971 Gold Top, improving his time by three minutes, but serious problems were emerging.

Six weeks later he suffered a massive haemorrhage and woke up vomiting blood. Doctors failed to diagnose a cause so he was discharged from hospital and soon back running over 100 miles a week. All was clearly not well, but quite remarkably, one final epic remained.

On 23 October 1971, 12 runners, including a 39-year-old Tarrant, began the Radox 100 Mile track race held at the Uxbridge Sports Centre in west London.

By mile 60 he was struggling badly, alternating between walking and slowly jogging, with race leader Ron Bentley 17 minutes ahead. The once imperious ghost was fading dramatically and few held much hope of him finishing, let alone winning.

But as he had done time and time again, Tarrant dug deep into what propelled him and battled on. Slowly the gap began to shrink until he was just two laps behind Bentley. Suddenly the unthinkable seemed possible.

In the end, thanks to a late burst, Bentley finished 14 minutes ahead of second-placed Tarrant, who ended his last major race in an appalling condition – his lips blue, froth seeping from his mouth as he collapsed at the finish line. Eventually his brother Vic, his steadfast rock throughout the years, shepherded him into a waiting car and the Ghost Runner disappeared. Forever.

“It was Tarrant’s greatest race,” said race organiser Eddie Gutteridge in Jones’ book, The Ghost Runner.

“He was in bits, mortally ill as we now know. God knows how he did it. It moved you to be there.”

Two years later Tarrant was finally diagnosed with stomach cancer. He died on 18 January 1975, aged just 42.

Today, in his adopted home of Hereford, close to the town’s running club, stands a sculpture in his honour – created, somewhat symbolically, by vulnerable teenagers living in a residential home nearby.

“He believed in fairness. Fairness for himself, fairness for everybody, equality for all,” says Upfold. “Nearly 50 years after his death, people still remember the name John Tarrant.”

Tyler adds: “He wasn’t allowed to officially win, but he was still determined to show people what he could do.

“It wasn’t just about running. It was about overcoming adversity and believing in yourself. That’s why people still love this story.”

Sprinter pulled over for second time by police

An athlete who was allegedly racially profiled during a stop and search has said he was pulled over for a second time by seven armed police officers.

Sprinter Ricardo Dos Santos published a series of video tweets of him being pulled over and questioned by police in Paddington at 04:00 BST on Sunday.

The Met said officers were concerned the driver may have been using a phone.

Five officers face a gross misconduct hearing over a stop-and-search in 2020 involving the sprinter and his partner.

In a statement about the incident on Sunday, the Met said: “The officers clearly indicated for the car to pull over but it failed to do so and they called for further assistance.”

Mr Dos Santos said officers believed he was on his phone when they stopped him in west London and claimed one officer took his baton out of his pocket “out of frustration ready to smash the glass” after not knowing how to open the car door.

He added “nothing had changed” two years after he was pulled over with his partner, Bianca Williams, and their daughter.

In a subsequent tweet, Mr Dos Santos revealed further, unpublished footage “will be with his lawyer”.

In July 2020, footage of Ms Williams and Mr Dos Santos being searched and handcuffed was widely shared on social media, with Ms Williams later accusing the police of racially profiling them.

After the search, details of the couple’s three-month-old baby were also stored on a police database called Merlin, used to record information on children who become known to the authorities.

In April, police watchdog body the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said an acting police sergeant and four police constables will all face a gross misconduct disciplinary hearing over the incident.

On Sunday’s incident, the force said in a statement: “Armed officers were on routine patrol in a marked police vehicle.

“They saw a car travelling eastbound on the A40 Westway and were concerned the driver may be using a mobile phone at the wheel.

“The driver stopped about five minutes later in Orsett Terrace W2, and the officers spoke to him about why they wanted to stop the vehicle.

“Following the conversation the vehicle was allowed on its way. We have since contacted the driver via Twitter to invite him to contact us if he would like to discuss this matter further.”

Cuban athlete defects after World Championships

A top Cuban athlete has defected while she was on her way back from the World Championships in Eugene, USA.

Olympic bronze medal discus thrower Yaimé Pérez, 31, abandoned the Cuban delegation while on a stopover in Miami.

Her defection comes just days after that of the 19-year-old javelin thrower, Yiselena Ballar.

Ballar had also used a stopover in Miami to escape, but had done so en route to the World Championships.

Another member of the Cuban delegation, physiotherapist Carlos González, absconded on the same day as Yaimé Pérez.

Cuban officials called their defections “serious indiscipline”.

Cuban athletes have a long history of defecting from the communist-run island while competing abroad, but the worsening economic crisis in Cuba has led to a raft of departures.

This year alone Cuba has lost its Olympic wrestling champion, Ismael Borrero, its silver medallist in the long jump at the Tokyo Olympics, Juan Miguel Echevarría, and gold-medal-winning canoeist Fernando Jorge.

Cuba has accused them of acting out of greed. “I feel sorry for them, because they change their jersey for any monetary reason,” Cuban Athletics Federation President Alberto Juantorena said last month.

The departure of top athletes has had a marked effect on Cuba’s position in the medal tables.

At the World Championship in Eugene, it registered its worst performance ever, leaving without a single medal.

Yaimé Pérez, who won a won a bronze medal at last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, had been tipped as a medal contender. She had travelled to Eugene to defend her title as World Champion but ended coming only seventh.

Yiselena Ballar was also a bronze medallist, having placed third at the U20 World Championships in Kenya in 2019. She did not compete in Eugene following her defection.

Blessing Okagbare handed 11 years for doping

Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare has been handed an extra one-year ban for additional doping violations to add to her existing 10-year suspension.

The Athletics Integrity Unit charged her with “evading sample collection, and tampering or attempted tampering with the doping control process”.

In February, the 33-year-old was handed her original ban for “multiple breaches of anti-doping rules”.

She was suspended during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after failing a drug test.

As a result of Okagbare’s additional ban, Nigeria has lost its potential qualification place in the women’s 4x100m relay at July’s World Championships in Oregon.

Six days after she evaded sample collection – on 13 June 2021 – she competed in the relay event at Nigeria’s Olympic trials, helping her team to qualify for the World Championships. However, all results involving Okagbare have now been disqualified.

“Over the years, we have repeatedly seen how one person’s actions adversely affect team-mates who have trained hard and worked honestly for their results,” AIU head Brett Clothier said in a statement.

“In this instance, Nigeria has lost an important qualification spot. Those are the rules and we will not compromise on integrity.”

Okagbare, the 2008 Olympic long jump silver medallist, was a medal contender for the women’s 100m in Tokyo last year and won her heat in 11.05 seconds.

But she was ruled out of the semi-finals after the AIU said she had tested positive for a human growth hormone following an out-of-competition test on 19 July.

Caster Semenya slams African athletics leaders

Two-time Olympic and three-time world champion Caster Semenya has branded leaders in African athletics “cowards” for failing to stand up and fight for female athletes who are facing eligibility issues.

The 31-year-old is barred from competing in her preferred 800m race by World Athletics’ differences of sexual development (DSD) rules introduced in 2019.

Athletes with high testosterone are required to medically lower their levels in order to compete in events between 400m and 1500m.

“I think that, in this day, we have coward leaders,” Semenya said.

“In this continent, people are quiet. I don’t know why they’re quiet. They’re not fighting for their own athletes.

“You have got to show up and work, fight for your athletes, and then African athletics will be great. At this moment it’s disappointing.”

When asked by BBC Sport Africa about Semenya’s comments and whether African athletics leadership has done enough for its athletes, Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) president Malboum Kalkaba said: “Sorry, I do not have an answer”.

Similar cases across continent

Several other African athletes have been affected by the DSD rules, including Burundi’s Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and her fellow 800m runner Margaret Wambui of Kenya.

Last year, two Namibian teenagers, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were forced to step down from the 400m weeks before the Tokyo Olympics after they were informed of their elevated testosterone levels.

Both Mboma and Masilingi ended up competing in the 200m in Japan, with Mboma winning historic Olympic silver for her country.

However, Semenya, who now competes over 5000m, has questioned African leadership’s handling of the teenagers’ situation as well as its relative “silence” on the DSD matter in general.

“When I was 18, I couldn’t speak up,” the South African said. “Now I’m mature enough, I can speak.

“Imagine what was going on through those kids’ minds. They can’t do anything, but the leaders are just sitting out there enjoying the privileges, being in the boardrooms.”

CAA director general Lamine Faty said Semenya “has the right to express her sentiments” and that concerns over DSD rules were raised by the organisation a “long time ago” and were discussed again recently at a CAA council meeting in Mauritius.

A debate about eligibility in women’s sports has been heating up, with the recent focus being on the status of transgender athletes.

Last week, World Athletics president Seb Coe hinted his organisation could follow swimming in banning transgender women from elite female competitions, insisting “fairness is non-negotiable”.

“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant in performance, and have scheduled a discussion on our regulations with our council at the end of the year,” he told BBC Sport.

‘We are never going to stop fighting’

Champion over 800m at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, Semenya has previously challenged World Athletics’ rules but lost her case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2019.

She then lost an appeal and was defeated at Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court a year later, before going to the European Court of Human Rights where her case has yet to be heard.

“We are never going to stop fighting,” she said.

“At the moment it is not about me, it’s about the young kids that are coming up now that are going to face the same problem.

“There are a lot of kids that want to compete in 400m, in 800m and in 1500m, but they cannot be included.

“They say sport is for all, but at the moment it’s not for all.”