BBC Panorama investigation questions Mo Farah's use of L-carnitine injections

Ben Hobson
Photo credit: Charlie Crowhurst - Getty Images

From Runner's World

Britain’s most decorated distance athlete has come under renewed scrutiny following a new *BBC Panorama investigation. Aired on Monday 24 February, Mo Farah and the Salazar Scandal, raised key concerns regarding Farah’s relationship with his banned former coach, Alberto Salazar.

The controversy centres around a legal supplement called L-carnitine. This is a naturally occurring amino acid, but Salazar believed that infusing – or injecting – it into his athletes could provide a performance boost.

Before the 2014 London Marathon, in which Farah finished eighth, he took four injections of L-carnitine. While UK Athletics (UKA) and Farah’s lawyers have maintained that these injections were well below the legal limit (athletes are allowed up to 50ml in a six-hour period, and Farah is reported to have had 13.5ml), when questioned in 2015 by the US Anti-Doping Association (USADA), Farah repeatedly denied having taken the controversial supplement.

Here is a little of the transcript, obtained by the BBC:

USADA: ‘If someone said that you were taking L-carnitine injections, are they not telling the truth?’

Farah: ‘Definitely not telling the truth, 100%. I’ve never taken L‑carnitine injections at all.’

USADA: ‘Are you sure that Alberto Salazar hasn’t recommended that you take L‑carnitine injections?’

Farah: ‘No, I’ve never taken L-carnitine injections.’

USADA: ‘You’re absolutely sure that you didn’t have a doctor put a butterfly needle – into your arm – and inject L‑carnitine a few days before the London Marathon?’

Farah: ‘No. No chance.’

However, last night’s documentary revealed that when Farah left the room and spoke with UKA head of endurance running, Barry Fudge, Farah returned to the room to tell the investigators that he had, in fact, received the L-carnitine injections – but had forgotten about it.

Farah: ‘So I just wanted to come clean, sorry guys, and I did take it at the time and I thought I didn’t.’

USADA: ‘A few days before the race – with Alberto present and your doctor and Barry Fudge – and you’re telling us all about that now but you didn’t remember any of that when I kept asking you about this?’

Farah: “It all comes back for me, but at the time I didn’t remember.’

Farah has, of course, never failed a drugs test and is not accused of any wrongdoing. Moreover, L-carnitine is a legal supplement and all parties have maintained the injections were significantly below the legal limits.

But this latest development does raise questions, for a number of reasons. First, no records were kept about the infusions. The man tasked with this, the then UKA chief medical officer, Dr Rob Chakraverty, has said his ‘usual standard of record-keeping slipped due to heavy work commitments and travel.’

Secondly, Panorama obtained emails that show that UKA officials were concerned about giving Farah these injections. There were concerns for the athlete’s safety while Fudge also questions whether the injections were within ‘the spirit of the sport’.

Thirdly, despite such reservations, Fudge got on a plane to Switzerland, met a contact of Salazar’s who had the batch-tested L-carnitine in the form needed, collected the package and brought it back to London.

Two days before the race, the L-carnitine was injected into the arms of Farah by Dr Chakravarty. It had not been trialled on anyone beforehand, and Panorama understands that other British athletes racing that day were not offered the same treatment.

When Panorama journalist Mark Daly relayed this information to Toni Minichiello, former coach of Jessica Ennis-Hill and a member of the UKA council, he said: ‘That’s pretty damning. I’m shocked. Barry Fudge in that instance has to explain… what was your logic for doing that?

‘And you’re an employee of UK Athletics, so UK Athletics, why would you allow one of your staff to do that?’

Salazar has said: ‘No Oregon Project athlete [of which Farah was a member] used a medication against the spirit of the sport. Any medication taken was done so on the advice and under the supervision of registered medical professionals.’

However, this latest development raises lots of questions about Salazar’s influence over Mo Farah and, indeed, UK Athletics.

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