By STAFF REPORTERS
A British tabloid has a tape-recording of gold medal equestrian Mark Todd allegedly snorting cocaine with a gay lover as part of its sex and drug "sting."
The Sunday Mirror last night stood by its expose claiming that Todd took cocaine at a four-star country hotel in Britain while his wife, Carolyn, was setting up a new home for the family's return to New Zealand this year.
A spokesman for the paper said: "Given the reckless way in which Mr Todd behaved, including drug-taking, the Sunday Mirror was justified in publishing this story and stands by its accuracy."
The Herald has been told the paper carefully recorded all conversations before going to print in a three-page splash and editorial saying Todd was a disgrace and should be stripped of his medals and CBE.
But yesterday a chorus of family and friends dismissed the story as a smear campaign, while sports officials warned he could be dumped from the Olympics if the allegations were proved true.
Emerging from a meeting of the New Zealand Olympic Committee last night that briefly discussed the claims, committee secretary-general Mike Hooper said any athlete found to have breached the anti-doping code would face the consequences, including being banned from the Games.
He said the social drugs of cannabis, cocaine and heroin were on the prohibited list for athletes.
Mr Hooper said the committee would not act on "unsubstantiated rumours, speculation or innuendo."
Eventing New Zealand president Scott Carter said the organisation was concerned about the allegations but it was "extremely conscious of the principles of natural justice" and would only comment once it had "substantive proof and Mark's own reaction to the article."
Todd, a New Zealand sporting legend who won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988, is a CBE and has been named one of the 100 top sportsmen of all time.
He has refused to comment except to issue a brief statement saying the allegations were "an unjustifiable and disgraceful intrusion."
Todd, who left New Zealand in 1979, has made a living out of his huge successes at eventing in Britain, supplemented by farming in the Cotswolds and sponsorship from Bell Tea.
Todd and Carolyn, a former model and horsewoman, own the 80ha Poplars Farm in Gloucestershire, where they run 25 horses and grow corn.
His parents, Norman and Lenore Todd, had not heard of the allegations when the Herald visited their Cambridge home on Sunday afternoon.
Moments before his parents read the article, Todd phoned from England and asked his father not to read it until he had a chance to talk to him privately.
Mr Todd could be heard saying to his son, "Why are they doing this to you?" It was 5 am in England when Mark Todd phoned.
Lenore Todd said the family were behind their son and that the allegations sounded like a mixture of tabloid newspapers and the tall poppy syndrome.
Mrs Todd said Carolyn had left for England on Friday, after renovating the family's new home at the $1.2 million, 60ha property in Cambridge.
Yesterday, a tired and emotional-looking Mr Norman Todd did not want to talk about the specific allegations but said he was overwhelmed by support from friends and family.
At pony clubs around the country, thousands of youngsters who were inspired by Todd to take up the sport were stunned by the allegations.
"He's like an old man. He's married with kids," said 11-year-old Sarah McMillan at the Henderson Pony Club.
"He doesn't do drugs. He's a nice man."
Ian Stark, silver medallist behind Todd at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, said: "I hope it's all fabrication. It doesn't sound like Mark.
"It doesn't make sense, really. Why would he want to risk what he's got - his career, his family - for something so stupid."
Locals from Todd's hometown, Cambridge, were divided over the allegations but gave their support to the respected family.
Shop assistant Kevin James said the story would hurt Todd's reputation.
"Where there is smoke there is fire. People believe what they read."
The owner of Wrights Bookshop, long-time resident Margaret Wright, said locals were disgusted at the allegations, which she dismissed as "a load of rubbish."
"Regardless of whether he is a national icon, he is also a very nice man from a lovely family."
One resident, who did not want to be named, said that despite the allegations, people respected Todd for his achievements.
"He may not be squeaky clean but who would be if their life was examined under the microscope."
Dr Gary Hermansson, sports psychologist for the New Zealand Olympic team, said the allegations would divide the country, which found much of its identity through sporting heroes.
Some would be offended by the coverage while others would be caught up in it.
"We give our sporting heroes a lot of credence. We build them up in a big way and they are so much a part of our identity, of who we are.
"The bad part is we put our sporting heroes in an awkward position sometimes when we expect them to be larger than life. When they aren't, we tend to abandon them or give them a hard time."
The Sunday Mirror reported that Todd was paranoid about the danger of losing his sponsorship deals with Toyota and Saab, but New Zealand companies said he had not been associated with them for some time.
Toyota New Zealand said it had no relation with Todd and Bell Tea, which used him to front an advertisement featuring Todd's winning horse Charisma and wife Carolyn, said it had not run the ad for five years.
Bell Tea chief executive John Mahoney said the company had an informal arrangement with Todd, as it had with Princess Anne's former husband, equestrian Captain Mark Phillips, an earlier face of Bell Tea.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said she had given no consideration to Todd's MBE and CBE awards. Honours can be removed only by the Queen on the advice of the Government.
By yesterday afternoon she still did not know the details of Todd's alleged drugs and sex triste.
"The headlines are sufficiently lurid that I must confess I haven't read the details," she said.
"I leave it to my night-time reading. It hasn't been priority today."
Mark Todd was made an MBE in 1984 and a CBE in 1995.
Fellow international equestrian Vaughn Jefferis said yesterday he was "absolutely shocked" by the allegations.
"I've been on the team with Mark for the last 10 years and I know him extremely well, so we were extremely surprised by today's reaction of the newspaper tabloid."
Jefferis said he did not believe any of the allegations, and English papers were "gutter press" a lot of the time.
"I personally just think it is a slur on him and I don't know for what reason, but [there is] utter disbelief in the equestrian world."