27 August 2019

Coleman, ‘whereabouts’, and the premature vilification of an athlete

Christian Coleman has been charged with failing to properly file his whereabouts information, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has confirmed. It would appear that this led to three failed attempts to locate the US sprinter for anti-doping tests, which could lead to him facing a two year ban when his case is heard by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) on 4 September.

‘Given Mr. Coleman has now publicly commented on his case, we can confirm that he has been notified and charged under the USADA Protocol of a potential anti-doping rule violation for failing to properly file his whereabouts information’, read an e-mailed USADA statement. ‘Under the World Anti-Doping Code three whereabouts failures within a 12-month period may be considered an anti-doping rule violation.   

‘Two of the three test attempts on Mr. Coleman were USADA directed and one of the attempts was initiated by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). Given this, the case is proceeding under the USADA Protocol but we are working closely with the AIU on this matter. We have expedited the case under the USADA rules and Mr. Coleman has agreed to have the three-person independent American Arbitration Association/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (AAA/CAS) arbitration panel hear the case on September 4 and issue its decision by the end of the following day, well before the IAAF World Championships.’


Under the World Anti-Doping Code, international federations (IFs) and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) are required to establish a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) of a limited number of elite athletes. Athletes selected to be part of an RTP must submit ‘whereabouts’ information 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.

IFs and NADOs are given discretion as to who should be included in the RTP, but it should include elite athletes from which they plan to collect more than three out-of-competition (OOC) samples per year. ‘The whereabouts information they provide while in the Registered Testing Pool will be accessible, through ADAMS or another system approved by WADA, to WADA and to other Anti-Doping Organizations having authority to test the Athlete’, reads Article 5.6 of WADA’s International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI).

The logic behind this is that the RTP enables any anti-doping organisation (ADO), national federation, or event organiser to test elite RTP athletes at any time, outside of competition. But for such a system to be effective, whereabouts need to be accurate and up to date. The onus is on the athlete to keep their information up to date and under WADA’s strict liability approach, a sanctioning system has been put in place for athletes that fail to do this.

Under Article 2.4 of Code, ‘whereabouts failures’ comprise ‘Any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures, as defined in the International Standard for Testing and Investigations, within a twelve-month period by an Athlete in a Registered Testing Pool’. Article 10.3.2 of the Code mandates that for violations of Article 2.4, ‘the period of Ineligibility shall be two years, subject to reduction down to a minimum of one year, depending on the Athlete’s degree of Fault. The flexibility between two years and one year of Ineligibility in this Article is not available to Athletes where a pattern of last-minute whereabouts changes or other conduct raises a serious suspicion that the Athlete was trying to avoid being available for Testing.’


Although USADA has declined to offer further comment on his case, it would appear that Coleman has failed to update his whereabouts information and has been caught out. With the Doha 2019 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships fast approaching, it appears feasible that USADA and the IAAF’s AIU would want to locate him for testing, and he was not where his whereabouts information said he would be.

The purpose of WADA’s ‘whereabouts’ system is to allow any anti-doping organisation to turn up, unannounced, and test an athlete. As such, it may not be accurate to say that Coleman has ‘missed three tests’, as has been widely repeated following the original news report. That suggests that Coleman failed to appear at the location specified on his whereabouts form.

Given that Coleman has been charged with failing to properly file his whereabouts information, it is possible that he was at the location he had specified in an updated version of his ‘whereabouts’ filing. If that updated filing was not accepted into WADA’s ADAMS system, then Doping Control Officers could have gone to a location previously specified by Coleman.

In such a scenario, Coleman may argue that he was where he said he would be. As such, whether he has ‘missed three tests’ depends on interpretation.

“I’m not a guy who takes any supplements at all, so I’m never concerned about taking drug tests, at any time”, Coleman told NBC. “What has been widely reported concerning filing violations is simply not true. I am confident the upcoming hearing on September 4 will clear the matter and I will compete at World Championships in Doha this fall.”

Due to the way in which his case has been reported, Coleman has been marked with the thick tar of the brush labelled ‘doping cheat’, which has unfairly tarnished the reputation of many athletes. Whether Coleman is guilty of not being where he said he would be will be determined on 4 September, when we will find out whether such premature labelling is in any way justified.

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