The Tory MP who suggested that a British winner of the London Marathon could be linked to blood doping has received mounting condemnation after he the blamed the press for misquoting him - but he still refuses to deny that he did not mean Paula Radcliffe.
During the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday, Jesse Norman asked UK Anti-Doping chairman, David Kenworthy: “When you hear the London Marathon, potentially the winners or medallists at the London Marathon, potentially British athletes are under suspicion for very high levels of blood doping… when you think of the effect that has on young people and the community nature of that event, what are your emotions about that, how do you feel about that?”
Radcliffe, 41, is the only non-disabled British winner of the marathon since 1996
Although not mentioned by name, the long-distance runner hit back at the comments, maintaining that she is a “clean” athlete in a 1,700 word rebuttal.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, Norman said he was surprised that a row had erupted as “no names were given, no allegations were made, no specific athletes were described”.
He said: “We went through a whole bunch of countries of which things have been said, serious allegations made – Russia, Kenya – and it’s absolutely right to raise the question of whether or not British athletes may have been involved in some way [in doping].
“And what is interesting also is that, of course, in a three hour hearing what’s happened is that the press pack – and it is a pack, it’s a herd of ungulates – have basically taken this single snippet and run off to Paula Radcliffe and attempted to bounce her into some kind of statement and I think that’s very unfortunate.”
Despite numerous attempts made by Today's presenter, Sarah Montague, Norman refused to acknowledge that he was referring to Radcliffe.
Montague:"Now you didn't actually name Paula Radcliffe, but from what you did say yesterday, one could have been left in no doubt who you could have been talking about. Was that a mistake?”
Norman: “Well, I don't think that is actually true, I mean the fact of the matter is that we were all, I mean I certainly massively admire Paula Radcliffe, I grew up on tales of her extraordinary exploits in the '90s and earlier 2000s and nothing could be further from the intention of the committee to then to have named any athlete in fact no names were given, no allegations were made, no specific athletes were described and no test results were mentioned.”
Montague:“Am I misquoting you then, because I have a quote in front of you here and people would have heard you say in your question that 'potentially the winners or medalists at the London Marathon potentially British athletes are under suspicion for very high levels of blood doping', and as I say there has only been one non-disabled British winner of the marathon since 1996.”
Norman:“Well as you say, non-disabled, of course, that's the first thing and second of all I was talking about medalists as well as winners and it was a list rather than a description of a single person or set of people so the thing doesn't hold up.”
Montague:“So it is misquoting on your part or it is the media's fault you are suggesting, so you did not mean Paula Radcliffe?”
Norman:“No, no, no hold on a second, you are I'm afraid doing a bit of a gotcha here. The truth of the matter is it is not a fault issue, the media has taken a segment out of context of a three hour hearing and tried to use it for their own purposes.”
People were highly critical of Norman on social media following his Radio 4 interview, with some calling for an apology and even his resignation.
Others felt that his blaming of the media was no excuse.
Ukip deputy party chairman and London mayoral hopeful, Suzanne Evans, chimed in on the debate, siding with Norman who did not “implicate Radcliffe at all”.
Yet many were not convinced with his argument that he did not specifically name Radcliffe.
National newspapers, including The Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent and The Times featured Radcliffe on their front pages on Wednesday.
The Mirror's front page
The Independent's front page
The Times' front page
The Guardian's front page
Radcliffe said that she was “angry, hurt and upset” that she had been put in this situation and that, after months of speculation, she is “relieved” that she can speak out and defend herself.
In response accusations that the British athlete was “overreacting” to the rumours, Radcliffe told Sky News: "If you listen back to what the chairman said I don't really feel that I had any choice.
“I mean, he alluded to past winners, medalists, of the London Marathon in that period and aside from in the wheelchair race that only could be me, so, essentially, he identified me and then people have free reign because of parliamentary privilege to go ahead and name me in the press so at that point I'm not willing to be blackmailed by the people in question any more on this matter and I'm going to come out and defend myself.”
Paula Radcliffe on Sky News on Wednesday
When asked about how she feels about Norman, Radcliffe said: “You can hide behind parliamentary privilege to a certain point but at the end of the day you still have to be able to look back on yourself and how you conduct your life and be able to say that you are proud of the person that you are.
“Can he said that? I know that I can.”