The Sunday Times has revealed an injunction threat was dropped at the "eleventh hour" ahead of its front-page expose on doping in athletics.
The newspaper's Insight team revealed yesterday that a whistleblower had provided it – along with German broadcaster ARD/WDR – with data in the "biggest leak of blood-test data in sporting history".
It has had access to a database containing more than 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes and which it claims reveals "the extraordinary extent of cheating by athletes at the world's most prestigious events".
After consulting with anti-doping experts, who reviewed the files, The Sunday Times yesterday claimed that one-third of Olympic and world championships medals – including 55 golds – won by athletes in endurance events were awarded to competitors with suspicious doping test results.
The newspaper also reported that at least 800 athletes – one in seven of those named in the files – have recorded blood-test results described by an expert as "highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal". Another allegation is that more than a third of the world's fastest times in endurance events were recorded by athletes whose tests have triggered suspicion.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it was "very alarmed" by the claims.
The Sunday Times – which has won a series of awards over the last year following its reporting on the FIFA files last summer – yesterday devoted five pages to its "Doping Scandal" story, which it described as "sport's dirtiest secret".
The data which the story was based on has been "kept under lock and key for years at the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) Monaco headquarters", The Sunday Times reported. But it was "released by a whistleblower seriously concerned about its 'disturbing' content".
And the newspaper reported: “The IAAF threatened to take out an injunction preventing The Sunday Times from publishing details from the files, but it dropped its action at the eleventh hour on Friday.
"It said the newspaper 'is in unlawful possession of the IAAF’s entire blood-testing database of over 12,000 samples covering the years 2001-2012, or at least a very substantial part of it”.
The Sunday Times reported that 12 athletes from Britain "were found to have given 19 abnormal test results". It said that one "successful athlete who on three occasions recorded off-scores that had a less than a one-in-1,000 chance of being natural… who cannot be named, denies cheating and has threatened legal action".