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Runner faces UK deportation

A runner from Ethiopia who dreams of representing Team GB is facing deportation back to his home country even though a state of emergency has been declared there.

Seyfu Jamaal, 21, arrived in the UK aged 17 after travelling to the UK in the back of a lorry and claimed asylum. The Home Office accepts he was persecuted and trafficked before he arrived in the UK. But officials refused his asylum claim in May of this year after keeping him waiting for more than three and a half years for a decision, saying it would be safe for him to return home.

Current advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is against travel to Ethiopia – where a state of emergency was declared on 2 November – because of its ongoing military conflict.

Jamaal has received support from The Running Charity, which is campaigning for him to be allowed to remain in the UK. Alex Eagle from the charity said that Jamaal has become one of its most committed and popular runners.

Eagle said: “Seyfu has built a community and family within the UK. His bond with our coaches, our young people, and the wider running community have become his family. So many of our young people draw inspiration from him, model his behaviour and his attitude to training. The community would be so much poorer without him.”

In June 2019, Jamaal won the London Landmarks Half Marathon in a course record of 1hr 8mins 50secs. He is a regular top 10 finisher in the national parkrun times and his ambition is to run and represent Team GB. He also mentors other young runners.

Jamaal is traumatised by the things that happened to him before he reached the UK and is distressed by the Home Office’s refusal of his asylum claim. He said: “Running removes my stress, my mental problems. It helps me forget, it’s my remedy. When I run I am healthy, I am happy. There are times you remember the problems, the journey, the traffickers, but I feel safe in England.

“I have never felt unsafe when I have been here. People think slavery has been abolished. Between Sudan and Libya, we were treated as a commodity, bought and sold, bought and sold, people telling you they own you, that you are their property. You always feel captured.”

Esme Madill, a solicitor at the migrant and refugee children’s legal unit at Islington Law Centre, said: “Seyfu applied for asylum in November 2017 while still a child. He had to wait until May 2021 for a decision on his application. A three-and-a-half-year delay which was devastating for him.

“The Home Office have accepted his account but say it is safe for him to return despite the government’s own advice. Given the Home Office promise, post-Windrush, to place greater emphasis on a more compassionate approach to individual applications, it is disappointing that no compassion was shown to Seyfu, and no recognition of his wonderful contribution to the running community.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Human trafficking has absolutely no place in our society and we are committed to tackling these heinous crimes, while ensuring victims are protected and receive the support they need through our national referral mechanism.”

Exclusive: UK Athletics’ chief was on £226k salary during controversial period

UK Athletics’ controversial chief executive Jo Coates was earning a salary package of £226,143 before she resigned last month, making her one of the highest paid administrators in British Olympic sport, the Guardian can reveal.

The news, which is contained in the UKA accounts for the 2020-21 financial year that will be filed at Companies House later this week, will upset many in the sport given her 19-month reign was characterised by turmoil, infighting and athlete dissatisfaction.

That anger reached a head in September when a group of Britain’s top athletes and coaches told World Athletics president Sebastian Coe of their frustration with Coates and her performance director Sara Symington. Both women also had their defenders but a month later both were gone following a stormy UKA board meeting.

UKA’s accounts show that Coates earned a £147,500 basic salary as well as another £78,663 in pension contributions between March 2020 and March 2021. However, the wider picture is far rosier than expected with UKA reporting an overall deficit of just £103,000 for the financial year. That is considerably better than the result of the previous two years, where the combined losses were over £1m.

Those results also came about despite the organisation experiencing a £9m fall in income due to the global pandemic. However, a combination of only staging one event – the British championships in September 2020 – and dramatically reduced costs for training camps due to travel restrictions meant that UKA was able to cut its costs by just over £9m.

The accounts show that UKA was also able to claim around £85,000 from a number of government schemes, including placing a number of staff members on furlough. And if it wasn’t for unrealised foreign exchange losses of £148k – as a result of the sport holding US dollars to cover costs including those associated with international events and overseas training camps – UKA would have made a £45,000 surplus.

When approached for a statement, UK Athletics confirmed that the accounts for the 2020-2021 financial year will be published on UKA.org.uk and at Companies House this week.

UKA’s chief financial officer Mark Draisey added: “This is a positive outcome for the sport, with our ambition of a break-even position only impacted by the exchange rates affecting our holding in US dollars.

“In terms of our core activities the organisation is coming out of this challenging period with a much stronger financial position to report.”

Leading World athletics Coach Rana Reider to be investigated over sexual misconduct

One of the world’s leading track and field coaches is to be investigated by the US Center for SafeSport after multiple complaints of sexual misconduct were made against him, the Guardian can reveal.

Rana Reider has earned a glittering reputation in the sport after guiding several Olympic and world champions to glory, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympic 200m gold medallist Andre de Grasse and the world triple jump champion Christian Taylor.

The American also trains numerous other elite athletes, including Britain’s Adam Gemili and Daryll Neita, from his Florida-based Tumbleweed Track Club. However, the 51-year-old American’s behaviour off the track is to be scrutinised by the US Center for SafeSport organisation, a powerful and independent body that handles investigations and complaints into abuse and misconduct in Olympic sports.

The Guardian has also learned that the allegations against Reider have led to UK Athletics warning Gemili and Neita to cease contact with their renowned coach or their membership into the World Class Programme, including lottery funding, will be suspended. A similar message has been conveyed to other British athletes who were considering moving to the US to train under Reider.

Contacted by the Guardian on Tuesday, Reider denied knowledge of the SafeSport investigation and said he had not been told of UK Athletics’ instruction to Gemili and Neita. “You can call my lawyer because this is news to me,” he added. Reider’s lawyer, Ryan Stephens, said the allegations against his client were “unvetted” and “unproven”. “SafeSport hasn’t issued a notice of allegations to Rana,” he told the Guardian.

“The suspicious timing and motives attached to these unproven attacks on Rana’s reputation need to be fully investigated and vetted, and they haven’t been.” It is understood the warning to Gemili and Neita came about after UKA took advice from its Standards, Ethics and Rules Committee.

Both athletes were then sent a letter, which told them that UKA does not feel it is appropriate for them to continue to be associated with Reiner at the present time. In a statement, UKA told the Guardian: “As part of UK Athletics commitment to ensuring appropriate conduct is consistent across all areas without any exceptions, we completed additional due diligence where issues have been raised about the support personnel of UK athletes.

“Following information from the US Center for SafeSport that multiple complaints of sexual misconduct have been made against Coach Rana Reider and that an investigation in the US is imminent, UK Athletics has informed UK athletes currently being coached by him to cease all association until the conclusion of this process.” Reiner has guided Gemili for most of his career, during which time the popular 28-year-old athlete has broken 10 seconds for 100m and 20sec for 200m and inspired Britain’s relay team to world championship 4x100m relay gold and silver medals in 2017 and 2019.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Neita had a breakthrough year in 2021, running under 11sec for 100m for the first time, reaching the Olympic final and winning 4x100m relay bronze at Tokyo Olympics. On its website the US Center for SafeSport says that its mission is “dedicated solely to ending sexual, physical, and emotional abuse on behalf of athletes everywhere” – and that it is “authorised by Congress to help abuse prevention, education, and accountability take root in every sport, on every court”.

In July 2021 the centre issued an indefinite ban on the coach Alberto Salazar for sexual misconduct and emotional misconduct violations. Reider, who is regarded as a brilliant technical sprint coach, joined UKA after London 2012 after a long US collegiate career to initially oversee the sprints, sprint hurdles, horizontal jumps and relay programmes. He worked with a group of athletes that included Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Dwain Chambers and Richard Kilty before leaving in 2014. After departing UKA he criticised some British athletes, saying: “Maybe they get comfortable. Maybe they get the funding. Maybe they’re big fish in a small pond and that’s the way they like it.”

SafeSport has been contacted for comment.

Mary Cain sues Nike and Alberto Salazar for $20million

Former middle-distance runner Mary Cain has filed a $20m lawsuit against disgraced coach Alberto Salazar and Nike alleging she suffered years of emotional abuse.

Cain was considered a generational talent when she was in high school and qualified for the 2013 world championships as a 17-year-old. She was a part of the Nike Oregon Project and was coached by Salazar from the age of 16.

But in 2019 she told the New York Times that rather than nurturing her talent, Salazar’s behaviour led her to self-harm and to harbour thoughts of taking her own life. “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike,” she told the newspaper.

The Oregonian reported that Cain, who is now 25, filed the lawsuit on Monday in Oregon’s Multnomah County. The lawsuit alleges that Salazar forced Cain to get on scales in front of other people and criticised her weight. “Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the lawsuit alleges.

Cain also alleges Salazar controlled her food intake, forcing her to steal nutrition bars from other athletes. Kristen West McCall, a lawyer representing Cain, also claims Salazar stopped the runner from getting help from her own parents. “He prevented Cain from consulting with and relying on her parents, particularly her father, who is a doctor,” McCall told the Oregonian.

McCall added that Nike did nothing to prevent the alleged abuse. “Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and wellbeing as part of its culture,” she said. “This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.” Nike has not commented on the lawsuit. Salazar has previously denied many of Cain’s claims and said he had supported her health and welfare.

“I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight,” he told the Oregonian in 2019. Salazar was banned for doping offences in 2019, and in September the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a four-year ban on appeal.

In 2019, Salazar’s former assistant Steve Magness, who became a whistleblower, said he had witnessed the same behaviour at the Oregon Project. “At one point I was told I needed to make a female athlete lose weight,” he said. “When I showed data on her body fat being low already, I was told: ‘I don’t care what the science says I know what I see with my eyes. Her butt is too big.’

There was no adult in the room, looking after health and wellbeing. When the culture pushes to the extreme, this is what you get.” Salazar coached many top athletes during his career, including Britain’s four-time Olympic champion, Sir Mo Farah.

Malaysian athlete stripped of Paralympic gold after arriving three minutes late

Malaysian shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli appeared to have won gold in the shot put in the F20 class. But after the victory on Tuesday, he was disqualified because he had shown up late for the competition.

International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said Zolkefli and two others who did not reach the podium were allowed to compete under protest after they failed to appear on time for the event.

“They were late, they may have had a logical reason for being late, and therefore we allowed them to compete and look at the facts of the matter afterward,” Spence said.

A statement from World Para Athletics, which governs track and field for Para sports, said a referee had determined after the event that “there was no justifiable reason for the athletes’ failure to report” on time. It said an appeal was also turned down.

The disqualification bumped Maksym Koval of Ukraine up to gold, and Ukraine teammate Oleksandr Yarovyi took silver. Bronze went to Efstratios Nikolaidis of Greece.

Spence said the disqualification was met with anger on social media. He described it as “very abusive.” Much of it targeted the Ukrainians.

“We are now seeing comments on all our social media posts that have nothing to do with the men’s shot put F20 event,” Spence said. He said the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee “was getting a lot of abuse from Malaysians.”

Spence added: “I’m sorry. Rules are rules. The decision was taken. It wasn’t the Ukrainians’ fault that the Malaysian was late.”

Spence said the three had arrived three minutes late. He said he did not see this as a harsh penalty. “Others get there five minutes early,” he said. Spence said an excuse given was that the Malaysian and the two others said they “didn’t hear the announcement or it was in a language” they did not understand.

The F20 class in shot put is for athletes with an intellectual disabilities.

Early in 2019, the IPC stripped Malaysia of the World Para Swimming Championships for being unwilling to guarantee that Israeli athletes could compete. Spence said the reaction then was similar.

“The level of abuse that was directed at the IPC then was through the roof,” Spence said.

How far has fight against doping really come since ‘dirtiest race in history’?

Thirty years ago today, Ben Johnson crouched on his starting blocks before the 100m Olympic final in Seoul, waiting. A gun went off. And he went supernova. Even now there is a visceral thrill watching him burn off his rivals from between 30 to 70 metres – those tiny legs whirring at an almost impossible velocity, as if the race replay is being played at double speed, while they strain in vain to catch him – as he lifts one finger in the air in triumph.

After his lap of honour, Johnson was asked which he treasured more: his gold medal or a world record of 9.79 seconds. “The gold medal,” he replied. “Because they can’t take that away from you.”

We know what happened next. A day later, traces of the anabolic steroid stanozolol were found in his body. Johnson was stripped of his glory and dignity; the rest of us our naivety. The dirtiest race in history, they call it now. Given six of the eight finalists have failed drug tests, perhaps that is right – but, given the ongoing ineffectiveness of the anti-doping system, would you bet on it?

Johnson certainly had his suspicions about whether things were much better in the modern era when I spoke to him in 2013. “Victor Conte made this drug called the Clear that could go through your system in 10-15 minutes,” he pointed out. “And if you look at some athletes in the last two or three Olympics, they’re hyper. You can look in their eyes. This is not normal. It’s crazy.”

With hindsight, the signs that Johnson was juicing were obvious. His shoulders and back were armour‑plated with thick muscle. He could squat three times his bodyweight. And his eyes had a lemony tint – a tell-time sign of performance-enhance drugs. As one US coach who saw Johnson a few days before the 100m final told Sports Illustrated: “His eyes were so yellow with his liver working overtime processing steroids that I said he’s either crazy or he’s protected with an insurance policy” – a reference to rumours from the 1987 Rome world championships that the IAAF, the athletics governing body, was covering up positive tests.

At the time the IAAF denied it. But history has subsequently shown it has form in this regard. It was only two years ago, after all, that four senior figures were banned for causing “unprecedented damage to the sport” by extorting €450,000 from the Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in exchange for hiding her doping violations.

Russia was in the news again last week, with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to welcome it back from the cold met with almost universal anger. Certainly Wada should be performing better. It is supposed to be the world’s policeman, but doesn’t catch enough villains. Many believe it is also too close to the International Olympic Committee, which has been accused of favouring geopolitics above clean sport in the case of Russia. Insightful minds – such as Renee-Anne Shirley, the former head of Jamaican Anti-Doping – also want far more external scrutiny from independent experts, too.

But at least we can say this for Wada. It has ensured there is a harmonized structure of rules across sports and countries – which was not the case until 1999.

Remember that at the 1988 US trials, Carl Lewis failed three tests for a stimulant which should have led to him missing the Olympics – only to get off because the US Olympic Committee decided his use was “inadvertent”. Lewis, who won the 100m gold in Seoul after Johnson’s disqualification, later admitted he was not the only one – in fact “there were hundreds of people getting off”. See, it’s not just the Russians who have bent or broken the rules.

Closer to home, most people also forget that when Linford Christie tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone in 1999 he was initially cleared by UK Athletics. Only later was he suspended for two years after the IAAF overturned the decision. At least such naked conflicts of interests are less likely now.

But the system remains far from ideal. Shirley, who bravely blew the whistle on the fact only one out-of-competition test was done in Jamaica before London 2012, also fears many countries only pay “lip service to clean sport” – “because they’re all about placing high on medal tables at major Games”.

As she also points out, testing is ineffective – with only around 1% yielding a positive result – and skewed towards inadvertent doping rather than catching serious sophisticated doping at the elite level.

Meanwhile, as we look back to that momentous day in Seoul, spare a thought for Calvin Smith, who was upgraded to Olympic bronze, but never got the credit or sponsorship his career deserved. “I was the best in the race, no matter what it says on paper,” says Smith, who never failed a drugs test and is widely considered to have raced clean in his career. “I did it in a way that was right, drug free, and many others cannot say that.”

Incidentally, not long after Johnson was busted Sir Arthur Gold, then president of the European Athletics Council, said: “The only people who will be caught for drugs are the careless or the ill-advised.” The tragedy is that, 30 years from Seoul, those words still ring true.