13th September 2019

Coleman deserves an apology: but not from USADA…

Christian Coleman has stated that he deserves a public apology from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), after a whereabouts filing failure case went public, leading to misleading media reports stating that he had missed three doping tests. “You can’t get three Missed Tests within a year”, states Coleman in a video entitled ‘My Perspective’ (below), meaning that three Missed Tests are not allowed under anti-doping rules. “And I never had three Missed Tests in a year, according to their rules”.

In the above video, Coleman explains that he had to pull out of the 18 August Birmingham meet and the 5-6 August Diamond League finals due to USADA’s case against him. “I didn’t want to get suspended from the date I last ran”, he explains, arguing that the episode has cost him a potential US$150,000 in lost prize money.

“They expect athletes to know the rules, but they can’t follow their own”, states Coleman in the video. “It really hurts an athlete’s reputation that we have a situation like this with USADA. They are an organisation designed to protect athletes but in that situation, I felt like a victim.

“The CEO of USADA [Travis Tygart] called me and he told me that, you know, he just wanted to apologise for how stuff happened. This whole thing was public. I feel like a deserve a public apology.”

Leak

It is not known how the information about USADA’s case against Coleman was leaked into the public domain. On 21 August, journalist Alan Abrahamson tweeted that ‘rumours are furiously swirling’ about US sprinters and ‘doping’, and Coleman’s name was mentioned in replies. A day later, the Daily Mail reported that Coleman had ‘Missed THREE drugs tests’. 

Abrahamson’s wife is a CAS Arbitrator often used in American Arbitration Association (AAA) hearings into anti-doping matters. Alan Abrahamson has been heavily critical of USADA’s handling of Coleman’s case.

Coleman’s case was scheduled to be heard by the AAA on 4 September, however USADA withdrew its case seeking to sanction him for a Whereabouts Failure, after he correctly argued that he hadn’t committed three Filing Failures in a year. USADA later clarified that it had never attempted to sanction him for a Missed Test. 

Filing Failures

Coleman also explains the details of the three Filing Failures for which USADA attempted to charge him, all of which he admits were his fault. They involved ‘Testing Missions’ – as they are referred to in anti-doping lexicon – on 6 June 2018, 16 January and 26 April 2019.

Coleman said that he was not at his residence for the June 2018 test because he was injured, and had forgotten to update his whereabouts information after being flown to Oregon by Nike for treatment. USADA clarified that it did not attempt to sanction him for a Missed Test, because the test attempt was made outside of the one hour window indicating where Coleman would be available for testing on his Whereabouts Filing.

It later emerged that the Doping Control Officer (DCO) in charge of the Testing Mission turned up at Coleman’s residence at 7:55, during the last five minutes of the 7-8am window specified on his Whereabouts Filing. USADA has faced much criticism over this. However, it is understood that this approach was intentional, as part of an effort to catch Coleman out.

It is understood that few NADOs turn up at exactly the time specified on an athlete’s Whereabouts Filing. A far more common approach is to turn up, unexpected, in order to catch the athlete unprepared. It is understood that this is what happened in Coleman’s case, however the Testing Mission happened to partially coincide with the hour specified in his Whereabouts Filing.

On telephoning Coleman, the DCO discovered that he was in Oregon, and so couldn’t have possibly been at his residence at the time specified in his Whereabouts Filing. As such, the DCO followed anti-doping procedure and recorded a Filing Failure.

Coleman also explained that by January 2019, he had moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and had updated his Whereabouts Filing. However, on the day in question, his usual weights session had been moved from 9am to 8am. He argues that his Whereabouts Filing specified that he would be at home from 8am to 9am, and he had forgotten to update it to reflect the moved gym session.

Coleman explains that he lives ten minutes away from the gym, and was wearing an Apple watch that would alert him to incoming calls. He said that he later discovered in an email that the DCO argued they had attempted to call him, but had not received a reply. He argues that there must have been some kind of “miscommunication”, but takes responsibility for not being where he should have been for that test.

Coleman says that he was invited to train at the Drake Relays, which took place from 24-27 April. He said that the morning after arriving, he received a call to say that a DCO had attempted to locate him for testing outside of his one hour testing window and as he was in Iowa and not Kentucky, concluded he couldn’t have been at home during his one hour window on 26 April. 

Coleman said that he called the DCO back and asked to be tested at the Drake Relays, but was told that this was not possible under anti-doping rules. On the advice of his agent, he located a third party testing agency and was tested, in order to prove that there was “nothing fishy going on”. He was issued with a third Filing Failure.

It’s my fault, but…

Christian Coleman is 23 years old and as a sprinter, is focussed on making the most from what is, historically, a short career. He freely admits that he is at fault for not updating his Whereabouts Filing, and there is no doubt that he has been remiss, and has been cleared on a ‘technicality’. But this does not make him a drugs cheat.

“I’ve seen a lot of comments saying how did you miss three scheduled tests”, he states in the above video. “That would defeat the purpose if they were scheduled tests”. 

Coleman outlines that he is tested between 30 and 40 times per year – or once every two weeks. Because of this, he argues that “doping wouldn’t even be possible because of the amount of times that I’m tested”. He points out that because of the number of tests he undergoes, “the likelihood of me forgetting to update whereabouts and them coming to test me is far greater than [for] the average athlete”. 

Strict liability

One might argue that it is accurate to say that Coleman got off a doping charge on a ‘technicality’. However, to make that statement, one has to accept that athletes who have never doped can be sanctioned for failing to update a database. On the evidence we have, that is the only thing of which Coleman is guilty. There is simply no evidence for anything nefarious on Coleman’s part.

It is easy to blame USADA for ‘botching’ the Testing Missions. But to do so shows a misunderstanding of how NADOs use athlete Whereabouts Filings to plan the testing of athletes in a Registered Testing Pool (RTP). 

Under the World Anti-Doping Code, international federations (IFs) and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) are required to establish an RTP of a limited number of elite athletes. Athletes selected to be part of an RTP must submit ‘whereabouts’ information, including indicating where they will be available for testing for one hour in each 24. They must submit this information through WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) three months in advance, although locations can later be amended.

Screenshot showing what whereabouts information athletes must upload to ADAMS…

However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. As the screenshot on the right shows, athletes are required to list their overnight accommodation, their competition schedule, as well as their ‘regular activities’ – for example, a team sport athlete might list regular training sessions. The logic behind provision of this information is that any anti-doping organisation (ADO), national federation or event organiser can locate an athlete in an RTP for a surprise test at any time – not just within the one hour specified slot. 

However – and this is key – a Missed Test can only be recorded if the athlete is unavailable for testing during their one hour slot specified in their Whereabouts Filing. In Coleman’s case, only the 16 January Testing Mission can be recorded as a Missed Test. Under anti-doping lexicon, Coleman has only missed one test, not three.

In short, WADA’s ADAMS allows athletes that have never doped to be sanctioned with a two year ban for failing to update a database. Athletes generally accept that the strict liability provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code are a necessary evil in order to protect sport from doping cheats. However, one could argue that the current Code is inflexible in its approach to sanctioning athletes who have never intended to cheat for Whereabouts Failures.

Hung, drawn and quartered

In calendar terms, it is accurate to say that Coleman recorded three Filing Failures in a 12 month period. He was not where his Whereabouts Filings said he would be on 6 June 2018, 16 January and 26 April 2019. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that all of these dates fall within one calendar year.

In this respect, Coleman has been lucky and it is accurate to say that he has escaped sanction due to a ‘technicality’. But again, only if one thinks that strict liability extends so far that athletes should be sanctioned for failing to update databases.

The relevant part of WADA’s ISTI…

It is also important to recognise that such a ‘technicality’ is implicitly specified in anti-doping rules. A Comment on Annex I.1.3 of WADA’s International Standard for Testing and Investigations (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’.

Coleman made his Whereabouts Filing on 1 April 2018. Therefore, his last Filing Failure, on 26 April 2019, falls outside of the 12 month window required to charge an athlete with a Whereabouts Failure under Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code. 

Case closed. Finito. No amount of gnashing of teeth and whining changes the fact that under WADA’s anti-doping Rules, Coleman cannot be charged. But that is about to change.

International Standard for Results Management

The new International Standard for Results Management (ISRM) will become WADA’s seventh International Standard when it is approved at the World Conference on Doping in Sport, 5-7 November. Annex B.1.3 of the Draft ISRM (PDF below) outlines that Filing Failures will date back to the first day of the quarter for which the athlete fails to make a sufficient filing, but if an athlete fails to provide an updated filing during the quarter, then the Filing Failure will take the date of discovery.

The relevant section of the ISRM…

Whilst this is about as clear as mud, it is understood to mean that if an athlete fails to update their whereabouts during a quarter and a Filing Failure is recorded against them, it will take the date of the Testing Mission rather than the date on which the Whereabouts Filing was made. In Coleman’s case, it would appear that this new wording would give USADA wriggle room to sanction him with three Filing Failures based on the dates on which the tests occurred.

In other words, under the ISRM, USADA would have been able to sanction Coleman with a Whereabouts Failure under Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code. Whether this is a good thing depends on your perspective about whether strict athlete liability for Whereabouts Filings should carry the same two year sanction as an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for some prohibited substances.

Vilification

Coleman is a very lucky man. He has escaped a potential two year sanction on a ‘technicality’. But is Coleman guilty of anything other than being remiss?

On the evidence, the only thing of which Coleman is guilty is failing to update a database. He has accepted liability for that, but not for breaking anti-doping Rules, because he didn’t break them.

Athlete’s graciously accept that in order for the fight against doping to succeed, they must be subject to strict liability for any failures to adhere to anti-doping Rules. ADAMS is an incredible burden for any athlete in an RTP. Athletes must file where they are for one hour each day, their overnight accommodation, competition and training schedules three months in advance. And as Coleman found out, injury or changes to training schedules can result in allegations that you have cheated.

USADA isn’t at fault for Coleman’s situation. It is following the anti-doping system that has been created, which places the burden of compliance on the athlete. ADAMS is adapted medical software which WADA is understood to have bought in 2005. There is an alternative which place less of a burden on the athlete, however having made its financial investment, WADA has dismissed the alternative without considering if it could actually be less onerous on the athlete and have less data privacy issues than maintaining the status quo.

There is an additional danger. ADAMS stores contact details including addresses, emails and locations for all athletes in an RTP for the coming quarter. And it has previously been compromised by Russian hackers. As such, it is a minor miracle that athletes continue to use it, largely without complaint.

Coleman has been nothing but honest, and has been victimised due to an attempt to use the system to catch a ‘big fish’. As such, he has been wrongly vilified, as The Sports Integrity Initiative originally reported. 

This is partly due to the negative language that surrounds Whereabouts Rules. When we talk about a breach of anti-doping rules due to a Filing Failure, or a Missed Test leading to a Whereabouts Failure, the public can hardly be blamed for drawing negative conclusions. The language screams that the athlete is at fault.

Unfortunately, the suspicion that Coleman had something to hide will follow him like a bad smell. His case has remarkable similarities to that of Lizzie Deignan (Armistead), who faced criticism after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) didn’t publish a ruling clearing her of three Whereabouts Failures in a 12 month period. 

The CAS ruled out the first ‘failure’, as the DCO didn’t follow procedure in order to locate her at a hotel where she was staying whilst competing in Sweden. A Filing Failure was recorded for a second Testing Mission, where there was an inconsistency between her overnight accommodation and her morning testing slot. In other words, like Coleman, she had failed to update her Whereabouts Filing.

A ‘family emergency’ led to a Missed Test during a third Testing Mission. Deignan talks more about the reasons behind this in her book, Steadfast. It is a private matter which she was forced into making public.

Like Coleman, she has done nothing wrong apart from failing to update a database. But suspicion still clouds her performances from people that believe that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, despite such a statement being scientifically incorrect (an extinguished candle or burnt toast are good examples of why).

This is why such cases are usually kept private. As said, we don’t know how details of Coleman’s case prematurely entered the public domain. Whoever is responsible owes the athlete an apology, as does anyone who has jumped to conclusions that he has something to hide, without a shred of evidence.

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