Neil Black considering his UKA position after Alberto Salazar doping ban

• Performance head’s judgment questioned after backing coach
• Black says ‘nothing has changed’ in belief regarding Farah

The UK Athletics performance director, Neil Black, is considering his position in the wake of Alberto Salazar’s four-year ban for doping offences.

While Black is not implicated in any wrongdoing, his judgment has come under question because of his unstinting support for Salazar – the American who coached Mo Farah for nearly seven years and was a consultant to British Athletics until 2017.

That backing continued even when the BBC Panorama programme revealed concerns with Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project training camp in 2015. Previously he hailed the coach as a “genius” – adding that there was “total trust, total belief, total respect” between Salazar and British Athletics.

Speaking for the first time since Salazar was banned for four years for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” following a 140‑page report from the American Arbitration Association, Black admitted he was “shocked” at the news – and appeared uncertain about his future.

“I’ll be personally reviewing thoughts that I had, the decisions I’ve made, the things that I’ve said,” he said. “Having done that thoroughly, patiently, sensibly, I’ll come to my own decision and that will run in parallel with discussions with UKA chair Chris Clark and the board. I’m certainly not ready to make any decision.”

Asked directly if he would resign, Black said: “It’s not something I’ve put in any time to at this stage. When you’re the team leader you have a clear job and it doesn’t matter what comes up you have to stay focused on that. I’ve had brilliant support from British Athletics, the athletes and staff to enable me to focus on this competition.”

When it was put to Black that his response did not sound like an outright no, he replied: “I’m not able to answer with any more detail.”

In the ruling, Salazar was found to have trafficked testosterone – a banned performance-enhancing substance – administered a prohibited IV infusion, and tampered or attempted to tamper with Nike Oregon Project athletes’ doping-control process. He denies any wrongdoing and is appealing against his ban.

Meanwhile Black insists he has total belief in Farah, who was not implicated in the United States Anti-Doping Agency report and has always denied any wrongdoing. “Nothing at all has changed in terms of my belief regarding Mo Farah,” said Black, who confirmed that he would be travelling to the Chicago marathon next weekend to act as Farah’s physiotherapist. “I think it is important to repeat that the British Athletics medical and support teams were always the people who were always on top of, and managing and directing the care of Mo Farah, so we have no concerns.”

Travis Tygart, the Usada chief executive, has also criticised Salazar for giving, purely for performance reasons, prescription medication – such as thyroid, painkillers and asthma treatments – which are not illegal under the World Anti-Doping Agency rules. Tygart also said Salazar treated athletes like “laboratory animals” with the treatments they were being given.

Last week one leading British coach with an athlete at the world championships wrote to the UKA hierarchy calling for an investigation into whether such methods were ever employed by staff in charge of the British Athletics team.

However, Black insisted that he was “very, very sure” no British athletes had been “involved in any of those processes”. When asked specifically if any British athlete had used thyroid medication without medical need, he said: “Certainly to the best of my knowledge, no British athlete has ever taken thyroid medication when it wasn’t required. It was obviously confidential information but the only time any medication was used and so on was for a medical reason without any question.”

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Black says he still wants to remain in charge of the British team at the Tokyo Olympics, although whether that will be up to him is an open question after Britain’s lowest tally of medals at a world championships since 2005. There is a meeting of UK Athletics officials scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

Black believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic after Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Dina Asher-Smith left Doha with gold medals – and he pointed out there were several near medal misses including Adam Gemili in the 200m and Callum Hawkins in the men’s marathon.

“There have been brilliant things, the biggest and strongest one was Kat. After what she has been through, the challenges she has had, the disappointment and the upset, she produced multiple personal bests and gold at world level. For me that was the most satisfying performance.” Of Asher-Smith, who became the first British athlete to win three medals at a world championships, Black said: “Dina at an athletic level, she managed the circumstances and expectation and achieve the things we’ve talked about and it’s a huge testament to her as a person and a personality.”

He also praised Laura Muir for finishing fifth in 3min 55sec – her second fastest time – in the women’s 1500m after such an interrupted preparation. “I think she’s probably learned something that says: ‘Bloody hell, if I can [come in] off different or altered preparation, I’ve got even more.’”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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