18 June 2020

Coleman’s ‘whereabouts failures’ charge explained

Coleman’s charge…

Christian Coleman has been charged with ‘whereabouts failures’ by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics, after an unsuccessful out of competition test at his home on 9 December last year. Under Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code, any combination of three missed tests or filing failures by an athlete in a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) within a 12 month period is considered an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV), subject to a two year ban.

Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code…

As the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) withdrew a similar attempt to charge him in September last year because the date of one ‘whereabouts failure’ was incorrectly interpreted, Coleman still had two ‘whereabouts failures’ on his record – a missed test from 16 January 2019 and a filing failure from 26 April 2019. Following the third unsuccessful test on 9 December 2019, the AIU is therefore able to charge him with three ‘whereabouts failures’ in a 12 month period.

If you’ve read this far and are not confused, congratulations. Welcome to the small, elite club of people who understand how whereabouts rules work and the principles behind them. If you are confused, you’re not alone, as USADA’s failed attempt to charge Coleman last year illustrates. 

Whereabouts requirements

Apologies in advance for the heavy use of acronyms, which are a feature of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) rules and regulations. WADA’s International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI) is mandatory for anti-doping organisations (ADOs) that are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code. Under the ISTI, ADOs must establish a Test Distribution Plan (TDP) that includes a Registered Testing Pool (RTP).

Not all athletes are included in an RTP. The ISTI specifies that it should include ‘highest priority’ athletes who are at ‘international level’. It is the choice of the ADO who should be included in the RTP, and they must fully inform the athletes concerned when they are entered into and removed from the RTP.

Screenshot showing what whereabouts information athletes must upload to ADAMS…

Athletes who feature in the RTP must supply ‘whereabouts’ information indicating where they will be available for testing for one hour in every 24. This is in addition to information on their overnight accommodation, competition schedule, as well as their ‘regular activities’ – for example, a team sport might list training sessions. Athletes that feature in an RTP must file this information through WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS), in advance, for the next three months (although locations can later be amended).

Victor Conte’s 2003 letter claimed athletes can manipulate whereabouts requirements to avoid being tested…

Athletes who are not part of an RTP may also have to file certain information if they are part of a Domestic Testing Pool (DTP), such as overnight accommodation and training locations. But – importantly – they are not subject to ‘whereabouts’ requirements and therefore do not have to specify an additional location where they will be available for testing for one hour in every 24. Just don’t lie about your location if the DCOs do call, as Mark Dry found out to his cost.

The logic behind the above measures is that should doping control officers (DCOs) wish to test one of these athletes, who often travel extensively to train and compete, they will know when and where they should turn up. Filing incorrect information and avoiding doping tests can be a sign that an athlete is doping, as illustrated by Victor Conte’s 2003 letter (see right) detailing Dwain Chambers’ doping regime, which led to a tightening of ‘whereabouts’ rules.

Coleman’s ‘whereabouts’ violation

The 9 December 2019 Unsuccessful Attempt Report…

In case you haven’t guessed, Coleman is a member of an RTP. He has been charged in relation to a missed test from 16 January 2019; a filing failure from 26 April 2019; and a missed test on 9 December 2019. The circumstances regarding the first two failures were dealt with during USADA’s failed attempt to charge him in September last year, and are outlined by this article in detail.

Helpfully, a statement issued by Coleman on Twitter, which can be read here in full, details the circumstances of his latest missed test. It would appear that DCOs arrived at Coleman’s home during a one hour slot specified within his whereabouts filings. Annex I.4.3 of the ISTI specifies that an athlete can only be declared to have committed a ‘missed test’ when they are unavailable for testing at a location and time specified in their filings.


As can be seen in the Unsuccessful Attempt Report on the right, DCOs arrived at Coleman’s home for a one hour slot between 19:15 and 20:15. ‘The apartment community is gated, but we were able to park at the front office and them walk to this athlete’s apartment’, it reads. ‘His apartment was located, but no car was out front, but could have been in the garage. Multiple, loud knocks were made every 10 minutes for the entire hour period. There was also a doorbell that was pressed, but we could not hear a ring inside so unclear if it was in operation. We remained outside his door fo the full 1 hour. No phone call was made per client instructions.

In his statement, Coleman questions why the AIU of World Athletics would tell the DCOs from International Doping Tests & Management (IDTM) not to call his mobile phone. The answer lies in a comment to Annex I.4.3(c) of the ISTI (see right). This outlines that DCOs should only call an athlete as a last resort, and specifies that there is no requirement to contact athletes by phone. 

Coleman could be correct in his assumption that by instructing IDTM not to call him, the AIU was directing a ‘purposeful attempt to get me to miss a test’. Only the AIU will know for sure. Coleman already has experience of such practices – during USADA’s case against him last year, it emerged that the DCO turned up during the last five minutes of the 7-8m window specified for 6 June 2018 on his Whereabouts Filing. USADA faced much criticism over this. 

It is understood that such an approach is not unusual. Many ADOs do not send DCOs to test athletes at precisely the time indicated on their Whereabouts Filing, in an attempt to catch them out. If a DCO doesn’t turn up in the first 45 minutes of a registered slot, there may be a temptation for the athlete to leave. In which case, a whereabouts strike can be recorded.

But according to Coleman’s Unsuccessful Attempt Report, that isn’t the case here. The DCOs were present for a full hour where they repeatedly knocked on his door every ten minutes. Coleman disputes this. ‘That night I have multiple receipts of going shopping then getting food and coming back during this time, so I don’t think he stayed for an hour’, he argues in his statement.

Coleman also alleges that the DCOs put down his wrong home address on the form. This appears unlikely, as the form outlines that DCOs checked his whereabouts information at 7:05, shortly before the test. However, if it is accurate that the DCOs were at the wrong address, this would explain why DCOs didn’t see Coleman return during his specified one hour slot, as he alleges happened.

Last chance saloon

Coleman alleges that he was at a mall Christmas shopping, and returned to his home during the one hour slot. The DCOs argue that they remained at Coleman’s address for the entire one hour slot, knocking every ten minutes. 

At first glance, it would appear that somebody is being untruthful. This is possible, but isn’t necessarily the case. If the DCOs were at the correct apartment complex but at the wrong address – and Coleman alleges that they wrote the wrong address on the Unsuccessful Attempt Report – then it is possible that both are telling the truth. 

As the current 100m World Champion, Coleman knows that he is a target for ADOs. During Coleman’s brush with USADA last year, it emerged that he is tested between 30 and 40 times per year – or once every two weeks. Due to last year’s case, he would also be only too aware that he is on his last chance in terms of ‘whereabouts’ failures. 

He also argues that he was tested two days later, as well as multiple times during quarantine, without issue. Given all of the above, Coleman would be taking a huge gamble by not being present at his stated location for the entire one hour period specified in his Whereabouts Filing. Especially as the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics are coming up, where he will defend his status as World Champion.

A glance at Coleman’s Twitter account reveals that the keyboard warriors have already begun attempts to assert that his missed test is definitive evidence that he is doping. There are legitimate questions that need answering – not least whether 9 December is a tad early for Christmas shopping. They will point to Conte’s letter as evidence that Coleman is following a plan to hide his doping, arguing that he deliberately avoided the 9 December test so that when DCOs returned two days later, substances had cleared his system.

Of course, there is no evidence for any of this. It is right that such questions are asked, but perhaps a hearing would be a better place to answer them. All we know at present is that Coleman has missed another test. 

There is no doubt that Coleman has been remiss in going Christmas shopping during his one hour slot. As has been pointed out many times on these pages before, only he knows if he is being truthful. There is an easier way to determine cases such as his.

Users of applications such as Strava will know that their location is tracked via GPS, even when mobile data is disengaged. WADA had the chance to implement such technology through an innovative system put forward by a German athlete in 2017. In March 2018, WADA’s Ethics Panel rejected the use of GPS to locate athletes for testing, however its Position Paper appears to have only focussed on the ‘ethical concerns’ presented by such a system, rather than any potential privacy benefits from GPS technology.

WADA has since launched ‘Athlete Central’, its new whereabouts application, but this still requires a large amount of data to be held centrally – a concern, due to hacking attempts by organisations such as Fancy Bears. ADAMS, to which athletes must upload their Whereabouts Filings, is adapted medical software which WADA is understood to have bought in 2005. WADA has spent a significant amount of money on maintaining and upgrading this system. Its 2016 Annual Report states that ADAMS ‘represents a significant portion of WADA’s overall budget’ but does not go into further detail, other than listing ADAMS as an ‘intangible asset’ worth US$4.2 million.

An interesting aspect of Coleman’s statement is that he would support the use of such technology in order to make testing easier. ‘I’d much rather just share my phone location and they can pull up whenever, wherever’, states Coleman. It appears he has support from other athletes. How many other athletes who have been hit with whereabouts filing failures would support this idea?

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