SII Focus 1st July 2015

The unique story of Karl Murray’s doping ban

Karl Murray’s story is perhaps unique in anti-doping history: he didn’t intend to dope, is not a professional rider and was issued with a ban by an anti-doping organisation not recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which only came into force after it was formally recognised by a WADA signatory six months later. His ban doesn’t affect his professional career, as he doesn’t have one, however it has damaged his coaching career, as changes brought in under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code prevent athletes falling under the Code’s jurisdiction from working with those currently serving a doping ban (Article 2.10). Of course, this means any athlete licensed by a national association or international federation.

On 22 May, Drug-Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) formally recognised a ban issued in January 2014 to Murray by the New Caledonia Anti-Doping Commission, after he tested positive during the 2013 Tour of New Caledonia. DFSNZ confirmed that he had tested positive for testosterone and nandrolone, and that his ban would end on 7 April 2016. They also warned athletes that they may be committing an offence under the 2015 Code if they continued to be coached by Murray (pictured).

Murray’s case throws into question the aims behind sport’s anti-doping rules. It is unlikely that the drafters of the World Anti-Doping Code intended for anti-doping rules to take away the business of a semi-retired professional who had not intended to dope. However, as Murray explains, that is exactly what they appear to have done.

In this exclusive interview with the Sports Integrity Initiative, Murray explains how his positive test came about, the laboratory tests he had carried out to prove that the supplements he was taking contained banned substances not listed on the label, and the impact the episode has had on his business.

The SII: The press release from DFSNZ says that you tested positive for steroids. How did this positive occur? 

Murray: “I had used a pre-work out supplement I had been given to try. I read the ingredients list and didn’t see anything that was on the banned list. I had other supplements that I used, but this was the only one that had anything left in it as I only used it for a few days.”

“I found out after having it tested in a laboratory that it was contaminated with a banned substance in each of the capsules they tested. I had raced the Tour of New Caledonia in October 2013, but it wasn’t until I was on holiday with my family in New Caledonia in January 2014 that I was told about the positive test results. That’s three months after the test and two months after they knew. I contacted a lawyer when we got back to New Zealand and followed their advice. It seemed strange that DFSNZ and Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) didn’t know, but we thought this may have been due to the fact it was a Regional Anti-Doping Organisation (RADO) ban, so did not include a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) country like New Zealand.”

The SII: Why did DFSNZ not accept your explanation that the positive came from contaminated supplements, despite your evidence showing this to be the case?  

Murray: “DFSNZ were only interested in implementing the regional ban (RADO) into New Zealand. As far as they were concerned, a decision had been made by the French authorities, and the details of the situation were of no interest.  The original French Tribunal panel I dealt with via Skype were the ones to hear my case and although I had my wife helping me with the translation from French to English, the panel started saying some things that seemed to insinuate that I was getting a ban regardless of what I said. We provided the laboratory test results that showed the supplement was contaminated, but they didn’t seem to care. We found out later that they were meant to provide a translator, but didn’t bother. I can see why they are not a signatory to WADA now. We also found out that a French rider had also been found to return a positive test from the same race, but he got let off. The frustrating thing was the level of confusion regarding the jurisdiction of the ban. I was lead to believe it applied only to New Caledonia.”

The SII: Given that the New Caledonia Anti-Doping Commission is not a WADA signatory, how did DFSNZ find out about the test?

Murray: “New Caledonia is a small place so people talk. A New Caledonian sent the link to a New Zealander, and it snowballed from there. Plenty of people stood to make considerable financial gain, and it didn’t take long before the knives came out and those people used Facebook to publicly voice their opinions on my case, which they knew so little about. Some may have viewed it as a chance to pick up the business that I was set to lose. It was a case of trial by social media, and as I was in talks with DFSNZ, I was unable to defend myself. DFSNZ contacted the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), WADA and the New Caledonians, and together with my lawyers we came to an agreement for a provisional ban until it was sorted out. That took a couple of months.”

The SII: I noticed that the ban extends to coaching athletes, which unfortunately will affect your business. In your view, is this fair?

Murray: “Under the revised Code (2015), as a result of the positive ban, I am restricted with my business, as any licensed riders are off limits for coaching. I can see why they have put this rule in place and it’s not the rule that’s unfair, it’s the way it’s explained or interpreted. Of course I feel hard done by. I have never knowingly taken any illegal substance. My reputation has been badly tarnished by this, and it’s a very hard thing to take. My family, friends, coached riders and my business have been ruined to the point where it will never be the same. Those that know me well have stood by and supported me. Some have been told by CNZ that they are not allowed to talk to me at all about anything, which is false. DFSNZ will set them straight on that if the care to contact them.”

The SII: Do you plan to appeal any aspects of the ban?

Murray: “I don’t think I can appeal, as it needed to be done within three months of the hearing. Honestly, the damage is well and truly done. It has been heartbreaking and exhausting. I couldn’t put my wife and children through an appeal process.”

The SII: What advice can you offer to other athletes caught in the same situation?

Murray: “Well, I really hope that this doesn’t happen to anyone. My advice is to contact DFSNZ if you’re taking any supplement and check that it’s got the all clear from them. They have a free 0800 number that people can use. In hindsight, that is what I should have done.”

“When I raced in France during the 1990s, the revelations made by past riders since then indicate there were plenty of people doing ‘drugs’. I always stood strong and refused to take anything illegal. I’m proud of that and all my results throughout my career, which have been earned through hard work and clean riding. The problem is when you have a contaminated product that you test positive from, nobody believes you because too many lies have been told by pro cyclists. Even if you have proof that it was ingested without knowing the illegal substance was there, people still make their own judgment. The tarnished image sticks and some people are not even interested in the truth, they just black list you. Anybody that knows me well, or riders I have coached, can vouch that I have never condoned doping.”

“It’s strange how some people will be told that their cycling heroes from the 1990s admitted to taking EPO, yet they still idolise them and say everyone was doing ‘it’ then. But not everyone was doing ‘it’ and this meant that clean riders didn’t even get a pro contract and if they did, there was pressure to perform or be kicked off the team. So some looked at that as if they had no choice, but they did. They could walk away, but very few did.”

“In 1995 I did the Colonial Cycle Classic Tour and the Commonwealth Bank Classic Tour, both of which had top professional riders who could ride you off their wheel at will. Little did I know at the time that EPO was the driving force of the speeds these guys were doing, but it became a lot clearer as time went on. In 1997 I won the New Zealand u23 Road Race and went onto ride the World Road Race Championships, but these were crazy fast and although I finished, it was not what I expected so I started to reconsider how seriously I took this sport and decided 1999 would be my last year living and racing in Europe.”

“I was happy to enjoy racing my bike at a lower level after 1999. I had stopped dreaming of the pro peloton., I became a cycle messenger which was fun as I was getting paid to ride my bike around town. I still raced a bit, but it was for enjoyment and I didn’t expect much, although I won some races. I went on to work in a couple of bike shops and enjoyed bike fitting and coaching, so ended up creating a bike fit studio and coaching business. I raced a few times a year with people I coached, but when I was 35 I then decided to take a masters licence out as the distances were not so hard to train for, and I didn’t want to spend 15-20 hours a week on the bike. By this stage, I was coaching some up and coming talent and some went onto race professionally, or won their age group on the New Zealand and world stage. I also started to get a good reputation for bike fitting, as I had the first Retül bike fitting business in Australasia and had been trained at the prestigious Serotta bike fitting school in New York. I was fitting top pros in both cycling and triathlon, and the word of mouth meant I was busy every day fitting all types of people. I’d never change the above and I’d never risk all of the above to gain some result in some small time race by taking drugs. So, if people think that my positive test result is anything but a contaminated product I ingested, then they don’t know me. I admit it was stupid to not check this new product with DFSNZ before using it, but we all make mistakes and this was one I’ll never forget.”

The SII: What is your view on supplement use in sport? 

Murray: “I think they have their place, but they need to be from a reputable source and checked by the country’s drug-free sport agency.”

The SII: What’s next for you?

Murray: “I’m allowed to coach and bike fit non-licensed riders, so will do some of that as I enjoy it. I plan to eventually open a bike shop and see how that goes. From 7 April 2016 I can coach licensed riders again, so will go back to doing that – I have a lot of knowledge to pass on and my coaching record speaks for itself. As for racing, I don’t really miss it and the last couple of years I had only done fun events with friends or people I coach. I don’t know if I will ever go back to racing licensed events. This recent chapter in my life has been an eye-opener. Mainly due to the cruel and uninformed judgments passed down so quickly. On the other hand, I have received tremendous support from many in the cycling community, and I still very much want to give back to them and I have a lot to offer with coaching, bike fitting and racing experience.”

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