3rd September 2019

Christian Coleman decision: a complex explanation

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has clarified that it didn’t attempt to charge Christian Coleman for a ‘Missed Test’ on 6 June 2018, when a Doping Control Officer (DCO) failed to locate him, because the test attempt was made outside of the allocated 60 minute window. Under the International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI), a Missed Test can only be recorded if a test attempt is made at some point during the 60 minute window specified on an athlete’s Whereabouts Filing, and the athlete is unavailable.

Yesterday, USADA withdrew an attempt to charge Coleman for three ‘Whereabouts Failures’ after seeking advice on the interpretation of the International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI) from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). A Comment on Annex I.1.3 of the ISTI (pictured, right) explains that for the purposes of determining whether a Whereabouts Failure has occurred, ‘a Filing Failure will be deemed to have occurred on the first day of the quarter for which the Athlete fails to make a (sufficient) filing; and (b) a Missed Test will be deemed to have occurred on the date that the Sample collection was unsuccessfully attempted’. 

USADA’s statement explains that it recorded a Filing Failure for Coleman on 6 June 2018, ‘when a DCO attempted to test Coleman and discovered that he had failed to update his Whereabouts Filing to accurately reflect his location’. Two other Whereabouts Failures were subsequently recorded for 16 January and 26 April 2019. Therefore, WADA charged Coleman with three Whereabouts Failures in 12 months. 

Using the above comment from the ISTI, Coleman correctly argued that his failure to update his Whereabouts Filing should date back to 1 April 2018, when he submitted the information through WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). This was more than 12 months before his most recent Whereabouts Failure on 26 April 2019 and as such, placed the three Whereabouts Failures outside of the 12 month window required to charge an athlete under Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code.

‘USADA consulted with WADA to receive an official interpretation of the relevant Comment in the ISTI’, continues USADA’s statement. ‘This interpretation was received on Friday, August 30, 2019, and was that the Filing Failure which USADA had recorded in June 2018, should relate back to April 1, 2018, the first day of the quarter in which the failure to update occurred’.

However, although Filing Failures are subject to backdating to the date on which the quarterly Whereabouts Filing was made, Missed Tests are not. A Missed Test is also considered a Whereabouts Failure. Therefore if USADA had been able to charge Coleman with a Missed Test for 6 June 2018, it could have sanctioned him with three Whereabouts Failures in 12 months. However, USADA has clarified that such a charge would have been incorrect under anti-doping rules.

Devil is in the detail

In an email, USADA clarified that there are three ways in which a Whereabouts Failure can happen. 

1. If an athlete in the Registered Testing Pool (RTP) does not file the required Whereabouts information by the quarterly deadline, they are subject to a Filing Failure, which is one type of Whereabouts Failure. Filing Failures can also be issued if the information provided in the initial Whereabouts filing is insufficient or inaccurate (i.e., full addresses, dates, or 60-minute windows are missing).

2. A Filing Failure may also be issued if a Doping Control Officer (DCO) makes a reasonable attempt to test an athlete at the locations provided on an athlete’s Whereabouts filing and the athlete cannot be located or confirms they are unavailable.

3. RTP athletes can be subject to a Missed Test, if they are not available for testing during the 60-minute window they have provided on their Whereabouts filing. Importantly, a Missed Test can only be issued if an attempt is made at some point during the identified 60-minute window and the athlete is unavailable.

‘During the 6 June 2018 test, the DCO did not start the test attempt during the one hour window’, wrote USADA in an email. ‘In this case, it’s a Filing Failure because the attempt was made outside of the 60 minute window’.

Circumstances

One of the principles of anti-doping is that testing authorities do not announce details of proceedings against athletes unless there is a case to answer. This is designed to protect athlete privacy in cases where they have done nothing wrong. As such, USADA has not announced the exact details of what happened in Christian Coleman’s case.

However, the ISTI does provide some clues as to what may have happened. Under Annex I.4.3 of the ISTI, an athlete can only be charged with a Missed Test if the DCO involved attempted to test the athlete during the 60 minute time slot at the location specified in their Whereabouts Filing. This would appear to apply to Coleman. 

However, a Comment (pictured, right) to Annex I.4.3(c) of the ISTI adds that if an athlete cannot be located and there is five minutes left in the testing window, a DCO may attempt to contact an athlete via telephone. If they are available for immediate testing, then the DCO should wait at the location for the athlete. If the athlete cannot make themselves available during the remaining five minutes of the 60 minute window, then the DCO should file an Unsuccessful Test Report. This is not the same as a Missed Test.

USADA’s statement doesn’t state how the DCO discovered that Coleman had failed to update his Whereabouts Filing. But it does reveal that the DCO somehow knew that he had failed to update that filing. This suggests contact between Coleman and the DCO. 

It is understood that Coleman was represented by Howard Jacobs, who told WireSports about the circumstances of the 6 June 2018 test. It is understood that Coleman’s one hour window was at 7-8am at his former residence, however he had also stated that he would be available to test between 3pm and 5:30pm at a training facility. The tester arrived at the residence at 7:55am and started the ‘collection attempt’ at 8:01. But Coleman couldn’t be found and a telephone call indicated he had just returned to the country and was receiving treatment in Eugene, Oregon. He wasn’t where he said he would be.

Why the tester arrived late is not known. This could be due to confusion over his whereabouts information. There were two testing authorities involved in Coleman’s three test attempts – USADA and the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). We don’t know which one was responsible for the 6 June 2018 test attempt. ‘If the Athlete answers the DCO’s call and is not at the specified location or in the immediate vicinity, and so cannot make himself/herself available for testing within the 60-minute time slot, the DCO should file an Unsuccessful Attempt Report’, reads the ISTI. Given the above information, it appears likely this is what happened.

An appeal?

As USADA sought clarification from WADA on the correct application of the ISTI to Coleman’s case, it would appear that any appeal is unlikely. This will mean that Coleman is free to compete at the Doha 2019 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, where he faces a good chance of success.

It would appear that under strict interpretation of the anti-doping rules, USADA was forced to withdraw its charge due to DCO error. As initially reported, it is therefore not strictly accurate to say that Coleman has ‘missed three tests’, as has widely been repeated from the original news report.

Christian Coleman has never failed a doping test. USADA’s statement mentions that in 2018/19, he has been tested by USADA alone on 20 separate occasions.

Yet in the eyes of the internet’s anti-doping zealots, the anti-doping system has let another ‘cheat’ slip through the system. As such, Coleman has been tarred with the same brush applied to Justin Gatlin, who has also never been proven to have cheated through doping.

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