18 June 2021

AIU made “judgement call” not to announce Houlihan’s suspension

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics made a “judgement call” not to announce Shelby Houlihan’s provisional suspension due to the unique circumstances of the case, a spokesperson has told The Sports Integrity Initiative. ‘The AIU will publicly disclose the existence of a pending case where the Athlete or other Person involved has been (under either the ADR or the Integrity Code of Conduct):
• provisionally suspended; or
• issued with a Notice of Charge to be determined by the Disciplinary Tribunal (except for doping cases involving Specified Substances on the WADA Prohibited List)’
, reads the AIU’s Policy on Public Disclosure of Cases. ‘In each case, the AIU will disclose the name of the person(s) involved and a general description of the pending case’. 

Houlihan was provisionally suspended on 14 January, after a 15 December 2020 sample returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF or ‘positive test’) for nandrolone. However, she wasn’t charged until 12/13 May and due to the proximity of the expedited hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on 4 June, the AIU decided not to make an announcement until the CAS had issued its Decision.

“We publicly disclose every case”, said an AIU spokesperson. “Sometimes the timing varies, depending on the nature of the case, for example in cases involving specified substances or contamination. After the finding in January, we had to wait for an explanation, which then had to be verified and assessed before issuing a charge. This took time.

“In this case, the notice of charge was issued on 12/13 May, two or three weeks ahead of an agreed expedited hearing at CAS. We made a judgment call that an announcement before the CAS Decision was not in anybody’s interest.”

This is debatable. Speculation began via Twitter on 7 June, over Houlihan’s failure to race in 2021 (see below). On 15 June she was sanctioned with a four year ban from 14 January 2021 for an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) involving nandrolone, after the CAS rejected her explanation that her AAF was due to meat contamination. Houlihan features on the Start Lists for the 1,500m and the 5,000m at the US Olympic Trials, although whether she will be permitted to run is in doubt. 

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