This week marks the deadline for the New Zealand Equestrian Federation to submit its team for the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, to the New Zealand Olympic Committee. But the committee will have a new factor to consider this year. The nation's most famous equestrian, Mark Todd, a gold medalist in 1984 and 1988, is currently saddled, if you will, with allegations that he recently snorted cocaine and had unprotected gay sex.
The incident allegedly occurred in a country hotel in England while Todd's wife and two children were back home in New Zealand. The story was brought to the attention of the Sunday Mirror tabloid, which gleefully ran a three-page article, spreading the news throughout the U.K.
Todd's family immediately attempted to squelch the rumors that the former New Zealand Sportsman of the Year had engaged in drug use and homosexual activities.
"How would you feel, how would you feel?" Todd's devastated mother, Lenore, told the Waikato Times. "We support Mark all the way."
A spokeswoman for Todd released a statement soon after the news broke that called the allegations an "unjustifiable and disgraceful intrusion," and emphasized that Todd had been the victim of "a squalid tabloid newspaper set-up ... For legal reasons in these circumstances he has been advised not to make any comment on the many distortions and untruths in the story which has caused great distress to his family and to him."
Todd was a certain choice for New Zealand's Olympic team this summer, but although the equestrian community is still supporting him, the Olympic Committee must make the final decision.
NZOC chief executive Michael Hooper refused to comment on Todd's case, but stressed that the NZOC does have an anti-drug policy: "At any stage when an athlete is alleged to have been taking prohibited substances -- in accordance with the [International Olympic Committee's] drug list -- whether it's Mark Todd, or anyone else, if it's proven then we would take action."
Todd's longtime friend Jim Wright, a New Zealand Olympics official, says that plans have not changed for Todd to compete in this summer's Games. And Wright is furious at the drug and sex allegations. "I can't believe that anybody can print that sort of crap. Something out there just doesn't tally to me."
As is so often the case with sexual accusations involving the rich and famous, a formal denial has not been issued by Todd or his family. But if he needs any character witnesses, Princess Anne's former husband, Capt. Mark Phillips, has described Todd as "the most gifted three-day event rider the world has ever seen."