Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed an appeal from Italian race-walker Alex Schwazer against a provisional doping suspension imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and has imposed an eight-year ban. Schwazer tested positive through reanalysis of a 1 January sample, given before he returned from a four-year ban on 8 May this year.
Schwazer was provisionally suspended by the Italian athletics federation (FIDAL) in June, shortly after returning from a four-year ban (three months suspended). His appeal against the provisional suspension was rejected on 19 July, however the CAS suggested an ‘expedited arbitration procedure’ to resolve the case before the start of the track and field events at the Rio 2016 Olympics on Friday. The CAS said that the full decision would be published shortly.
It is understood that Schwazer’s January sample was shipped to the Cologne laboratory, which is accredited as an Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) for the steroidal module of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). Last month, Gazetta dello Sport reported that the results of Schwazer’s sample were sent to Canada, where audits of those included in the ABP are carried out.
According to the newspaper, this analysis determined that a new check on the sample was needed in order to determine whether the levels measured in Schwazer’s sample were naturally produced (endogenous) or unnatural (exogenous). This apparently involved carrying out an Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) test on the sample, which had not been done in January as such tests are not routine due to their expense. This analysis apparently revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone.
It is currently unclear if the CAS has ruled on Schwazer’s claims that he was set up, reported in an investigation by La Republica earlier this week. The CAS said that a full decision would be published soon. He alleged that his car had been broken into and his water bottle tampered with in order that he reported a positive test. He alleged that race walking officials from Italy and the IAAF had conspired to keep him out of Rio 2016 – firstly because of the competitive threat that he represented and, secondly, as revenge for his (and his coach’s) role in exposing systemic doping.
In the documentary, Schwazer admits that he gave information to Bolzano prosecutors investigating his 2012 positive which led to the removal of computers from the home and offices of Giuseppe Fischetto, a member of the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Commission. Part of the recovered data was the same blood database that was used as evidence of systemic doping in Russia. Schwazer complains that Fischetto was not suspended and went on to perform anti-doping roles in Russia and elsewhere, including performing an anti-doping test on Schwazer following his return to competition. In recorded phone conversations included in the documentary, Fischetto voices concerns about what the database might reveal. Schwazer’s coach, Sandro Donati, helped uncover state sponsored doping in Italy in the 1980s.
It is understood that the IAAF has sought for its costs in proving its case to be reimbursed. ‘All competitive results obtained by Alex Schwazer from and including 1 January 2016 are disqualified with all resulting consequences, including forfeiture of medals, points and prizes’, reads the CAS statement. This means Schwazer will have to forfeit his 50km race walk title won at the IAAF’s Rome World Race Walking Team Championships in May, which will now pass to second-place finisher Jared Tallent. However, the IAAF confirmed that Italy will still retain its first place position as it has the least points, despite Schwazer’s disqualification.
In a recorded phone conversation that features in the documentary, international race walking judge Nicola Maggio appears to tell Donati – Schwazer’s coach – to let Tallent win in Rome. “Good morning. I assume I’m bothering you at this time of day”, he says in the conversation. “Last night we were at dinner with the good old boys. So please, stay calm. The only thing I ask you is to tell him again, up until right before the race, to let Tallent win if you can, you got me?”
Maggio is an Italian who is understood to run the Marcia dal Mondo race walking website. The conversation reproduced above is not necessarily proof of corruption – Maggio may have thought it would be bad for the image of the sport if Schwazer were to win a race shortly after returning from his ban.
It appears that Schwazer may be one of the first athletes to be convicted under the steroidal module of the ABP. This would explain the reanalysis of his sample 90 days after it was taken, which he complains about in the La Republica documentary.
The Sports Integrity Initiative has asked the CAS whether it has considered Schwazer’s claims, however the two recorded conversations that feature in the documentary are not necessarily proof that corruption has occurred. Nicola Maggio may have been concerned about the sport’s image should Schwazer win so soon after returning from a ban, and Maggio’s instruction “don’t go looking for trouble with the Chinese” may have been innocuous, and not an instruction for Schwazer not to compete with two Chinese race walkers trained by Sandro Damilano at the XXX Gran Premio Cantones de la Coruña on 28 May, as Donati claims.
The case perhaps underlines the danger that media coverage of corruption allegations in sport pose for anti-doping. The historic corruption that has occurred in sport means that athletes can now think up and put forward such allegations, which must be seriously considered by any disciplinary panel.