LONDON – For Lord Coe and his IAAF council, these World Championships just seem to be growing more uncomfortable by the day.
First they see a drug cheat win the 100 metres, then a woman they are trying to force take potentially debilitating medication courageously takes a medal ahead of a crowd favourite.
And last night they were confronted by a situation where one of the leading contenders for the 400m was turned away from the stadium crying “sabotage”, having contracted a highly contagious illness.
Isaac Makwala was most unhappy and the situation escalated when the American commentator Michael Johnson then suggested on the BBC that there might be some kind of conspiracy to guarantee victory for the new golden boy of the sport, Wayde van Niekerk.
Johnson certainly seemed to be close to the situation, having earlier revealed on social media that the Botswana athlete would attempt to compete.
In fairness to the governing body, they probably had no choice but to block Makwala after he was forced to withdraw from the 200m heats the previous day because of an outbreak of gastroenteritis that has struck down so many athletes competing in London.
Makwala had nevertheless declared himself “ready to run” yesterday, only for the IAAF medical commission to intervene.
Last night a spokesperson explained that, while it was “a sad case”, there was a need “to follow process for the health and well-being of all athletes”.
Without the man from Botswana, another highlight of these championships lost some of its appeal, with lane seven of the track remaining empty.
“This is going to be one of those situations where the IAAF are going to realise at some point they have got it horribly wrong,” said Johnson, “either by disqualifying the athlete unnecessarily or by not communicating to him or the Botswana team why they have disqualified him.
“Does this apply to all athletes. What is the criteria? If you collapse, you are okay, but if you vomit, you are not? It doesn’t appear any guidelines were issued to him about coming into contact with other competitors.”
Johnson, however, did not stop there. “The elephant in the room is that Wayde van Niekerk is an IAAF favourite, a fan favourite, he’s a favourite of everyone,” he said. “He’s the world record-holder, the Olympic champion.
“And now the only person, that was his challenger, Isaac Makwala, who was going to double as well, who has the fastest time in the world this year, 19.74 for 200m, and the second fastest time in the world this year for 400m…
“And now he has been pulled out of both these races. Conspiracy theories are going round. Who is behind this?”
In the studio, Paula Radcliffe, a member of the IAAF athletes’ commission, responded that the American was making “a pretty strong allegation”.
The IAAF would no doubt agree. They will also refer, no doubt, to previous statements from Public Health England.
Long before Makwala had tried to access the warm-up track, his name was removed from the start list for last night’s final, but still he made the journey to the stadium.
It was no use, he would quickly discover, officials enforcing the decision and leaving Makwala with only social media to express his desperation and disappointment.
“It’s like the whole world is making noise for me. I just want to hear that gun go and I setting off the blocks. Please!” he tweeted.
He also insisted that he was not that sick, had told medical officials as much and had presented a certificate. “I am heartbroken. I have waited. I feel like it is sabotage. I’m not sure if it is the IAAF or the British. I am feeling good to run tonight.”
It was a terrible shame, given that here was the only athlete to have run under 20 seconds and 44 seconds in the 200m and 400m on the same night, and possibly the greatest threat to Van Niekerk’s defence of his world title and attempt at a historic sprint double.
Johnson may have been right about a lack of communication. Falcon Sedimo, the chief of the Botswana Athletics Federation, complained that “we don’t have any official communication from the IAAF”.
“I haven’t gone through the rules, but we have a right to appeal,” he said. “There has been no formal communication other than the medical communication.
“I met with Isaac this morning and this afternoon and he was ready for his race. He only has one symptom of the norovirus. He has been waiting for years to perform here. He has not been asked to be quarantined from other athletes in the hotel, but he is not able to enter the stadium tonight.”
What a mess, and what a pity when Van Niekerk’s events represent two of the highlights of these championships.
Last night they were overshadowed by an extraordinary row, even if there was no denying that in this brilliant South African, the sport has its successor to Usain Bolt; an athlete bidding to emulate Johnson in becoming only the second man to win a global 200m-400m double.
Van Niekerk himself was also uncomfortable with the situation and voiced his solidarity with Makwala.
“I would love him to have his fair opportunity. I believe he would have done very, very well. I’ve got so much sympathy,” he said.
The first part of that mission was accomplished last night comfortably – 43.98 seconds and easing down – but it was done so against the backdrop of another storm of controversy.
Daily Mail, dpa