News 5th December 2017

Weightlifter offered 50% reduction in ban for Ostarine admission

British weightlifter Sonny Webster has alleged that he was twice offered him a 50% reduction in his ban if he admitted to ‘knowingly’ taking ostarine. The Rio 2016 Olympian outlined how he had been issued with a four year ban by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) after refusing the offer, despite UKAD agreeing that the level of ostarine in his sample was so low that it would have been near impossible to establish the source.

‘I was offered on two occasions to admit to knowingly taking ostarine in exchange for a 50% ban reduction’, said Webster in a statement. ‘You may think that that was a stupid offer not to take, but I was never going to admit to something that I had not done intentionally regardless of the consequences. I was prepared to do everything in my power to prove the truth.’

Webster says that he spent his life savings attempting to discover the source of the ostarine, which he argues could have been due to contaminated supplements or salt tablets. ‘The UKAD analyst testified that the amount of ostarine found in my body was the lowest that has ever been reported (4 nanograms/ml) which would make it near impossible to establish the source’, reads his statement.

Ostarine is a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) used in muscle wasting or osteoporosis-type conditions, but can be used by athletes to build muscle. As such, ostarine was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List in 2008.

In February this year, two triathletes alleged that their ostarine adverse analytical findings (AAFs) could have been caused by salt tablets or drinks given out at events. There have recently been a number of ostarine positives, prompting the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to issue a warning about the substance.

Analysis

Under Article 10.6.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code, anti-doping organisations are permitted to lower a sanction by up to half if an athlete promptly admits an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) prior to receiving first notice of the violation. ‘It may be that Mr Webster is aware of and referring to ADR Article 10.6.3 which, as you will be aware, gives UKAD discretion (at WADA’s approval) to reduce a four year ban down to two years following a prompt admission of a violation’, wrote a UKAD spokesperson in an email. ‘This is the regulatory framework in which UKAD operates. It would therefore be entirely legitimate for UKAD to bring to Mr Webster’s attention any provisions that may apply to him.’

A National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) decision (download here) said that Webster had attempted to argue for a reduction in his sanction based on prompt admission of the offence, but does not mention any UKAD ‘offer’ to reduce his sanction based on an admission to ‘knowingly’ taking ostarine. As UKAD points out, it is within its remit to point out that a reduced sanction can be offered in return for prompt admission. However, as the NADP decision also points out, Webster was keen to see if he could scientifically prove the source of the ostarine, making prompt admission in this case impossible.

It would appear that in Webster’s case, an admission of guilt would have resulted in a lower sanction, whereas an attempt to scientifically prove his innocence has resulted in the maximum ban being issued. Anti-doping is one of the few areas of jurisprudence where the accused is guilty until they can prove their innocence. If an attempt to prove that innocence results in a maximum ban, then this would appear to be a perverse form of justice.

 

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