By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - Paula Radcliffe, world marathon record holder and one of Britain's most popular athletes, has been cleared by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) of any allegation of doping.
Athletics' world governing body offered a complete defense of Radcliffe on Friday amid a robust rebuttal of claims that it had ignored evidence of drug cheating by leading athletes for more than a decade.
The IAAF has sent a detailed response to British authorities, saying the allegations that they sat "idly by" amid a scandal were based on "inaccurate and unfounded scientific and legal argument."
The vindication left the now-retired 41-year-old Radcliffe, one of the sport's all-time endurance running greats, delighted but insistent that her reputation had been damaged by the ordeal she had faced since her name was linked with blood doping allegations.
"We want to eradicate doping from our sport but we can never put any innocent athlete through what I had to go through this summer," Radcliffe told Sky Sports.
"Ms Radcliffe should never have been forced to come out and defend herself against such insinuations," the IAAF concluded, adding that "the circumstances in which Ms Radcliffe came to be publicly accused are truly shocking."
The IAAF's defense of Radcliffe features in its long response to the British Parliament's Culture, Media And Sport select committee hearing at which Members of Parliament discussed the doping allegations aired by German broadcaster ARD and the Sunday Times.
Journalists had obtained a database of athletes' blood tests over an 11-year period and concluded, after an examination by two experts, that it contained hundreds of suspicious results that the IAAF should have acted on.
Radcliffe was not named but felt forced to go public after she was effectively linked to the allegations by a comment from the select committee chairman Jesse Norman about the "high-profile British athlete" named in the Sunday Times story.
Yet an IAAF statement said: "She (Radcliffe) has been publicly accused of blood doping based on the gross misinterpretation of raw and incomplete data. When all of the necessary information is considered, however...there are clearly plausible explanations for the values in her profile that are entirely innocent.
"For example, in two of the cases highlighted by The Sunday Times, the samples were collected immediately after competition (when dehydration causes a decrease in plasma concentration, and so an increase in reported haemoglobin concentration, even though there has been no increase in red blood cells).
"Any competent scientist would therefore immediately conclude that they should be disregarded."
The IAAF said that Radcliffe was "hounded remorselessly" by the media and that there was "no basis whatsoever for the insinuations made against her."
The Federation concluded: "The IAAF cannot sit idly by while public confidence in its willingness to protect the integrity of its sport is undermined by allegations of inaction/incompetence that are based on bad scientific and legal argument."
(editing by Justin Palmer)