Makwala Brings The IAAF And BBC To Breaking Point

The IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federation] have cast a shadow over the World Championships after Isaac Makwala, a sprinter from Botswana, was stopped from competing in the Men’s 400m final.

The Botswanan athlete missed Monday’s heats while barred from competing as officials dealt with a norovirus outbreak. Athletics’ governing body defended its decision to deny the World Championship medal favourite’s entry to the Olympic Stadium amid attempts to control a ‘very virulent’ norovirus outbreak.

Tuesday’s 400m final was won by Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk, who has been labelled as ‘the new superstar of athletics’ after Usain Bolt retired earlier in the week.Although, Makawala did compete in the 200m final, finishing in sixth position after clocking a time of 20.14secs in the semi-final. In an interview with the BBC, Makwala said: “I wish to thank the IAAF for giving me another chance.”

The decision by the IAAF and Public Health England caused controversy amongst broadcaster Gabby Logan and former athletes Michael Johnson, Paula Radcliffe and Denise Lewis who appeared to interrogate and question the competency of the Head of Medical at the IAAF, Pamela Venning. Venning told the BBC: “I have to trust my doctors. My role is to ensure the healthcare of all the athletes here and it’s a very infectious and very virulent disease.”The IAAF is contemplating taking the matter further after the BBC’s coverage was heavily tilted towards Makwala’s viewpoint. In the wake of public criticism, which many described as ‘bullying’, the BBC released a statement saying: “We understand some viewers were unhappy about the way in which Dr Pam Venning was questioned by our team, but the tone of the questioning was respectful with Dr Venning able to present the IAAF’s position clearly and effectively.”


The IAAF said in a statement: “As per UK health regulations, it was requested that he be quarantined in his room for 48 hours, a period which ended at 14:00hr on August 9th.” This sparked the argument that if either Usain Bolt or Mo Farah were ill with the virus, would they still have been stopped from competing? Makwala insisted he was ready to race and told ITV News: “They said I had food poisoning – which I don’t have. I wasn’t tested for that.” “Sometimes I think maybe this is sabotage, it’s only because I’m not a Great British athlete,” he added.

Botswana team officials dispute the IAAF’s version of events and criticised the communication from the world governing body. The integrity of the IAAF process was repeatedly questioned after Lewis suggested whether the IAAF “could have checked him again to see if it was conclusive he was unwell to run.” Radcliffe added whether blood tests could have been done, even after Venning repeatedly explained that blood samples were not relevant.

This wasn’t the first time that the athletes-turned-pundits have come under fire during the World Championships. The incident coming after the Caster Semenya debate before the 800m final where Radcliffe suggested that Semenya’s high levels of testosterone give her an ‘unfair advantage’.

Botswana’s Sports Minister Thapelo Olopeng told BBC Sport that the country will pay Makwala the £7,500 he would have received from the government had he won 400m gold.The minister said that the country had submitted a further complaint about the handling of the issue by the IAAF. “The way he performed in the 200m qualifiers showed no sign of ailment and I don’t understand why the IAAF has continued with the same decision,” Olopeng said.

Image Credit – Wikipedia Commons. Flickr Commons – Marc.

Thomas Mackie