23rd June 2021

Concerns rise over missing Luvo Manyonga’s wellbeing

Concerns are rising about the wellbeing of Luvo Manyonga, the South African long jump star who has been missing since January, after being charged with whereabouts failures in December last year. Last week, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics published its Decision (PDF below) to sanction Manyonga with a four year ban, after he failed to engage with its disciplinary process. This week, Athletics South Africa (ASA) announced that it is continuing its efforts, previously announced in June, to locate and help Manyonga (see statement below).

Manyonga was considered as one of the favourites to medal at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after he won Gold at both the London 2017 World Athletics Championships, and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. However, he has a troubled past. This is his second offence and there are fears that the charge may have pushed him back towards substance abuse.

Troubled past

In 2012, he was sanctioned with an 18 month ban for an anti-doping rule violation involving methamphetamine, which he admitted was due to using Tik, a local version of the drug popular socially in his home township of Mbekweni (Paarl). Following rehabilitation, he returned to training in 2015 and to competition a year later, where he won Silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Manyonga’s 2012 sanction revealed his poor background…

The 2012 sanction outlines that Manyonga comes from a very poor background and found his success difficult to handle (see right). After winning competitions in 2011/12, he did receive winnings of around R700,000 to R800,000 (£41,000 to £47,000), but lent money to family and friends and fell into debt. This is relevant to the current situation according to Brendan Weldrick, an Eastern Cape Attorney who became involved with Manyonga last year.

“I am his Attorney of record”, explained Weldrick. “His sporting managers had refused to divulge his finances, and he was only getting paid in dribs and drabs when he asked for money, despite his success in the Diamond League. I was tasked with applying forensic auditing in order to examine the money coming in and out.

“He [Manyonga] has no car or house. He wants to settle his debts. I issued a summons to find the cash, which resulted in a criminal and civil case. In the midst of this, his [2020] doping case came up. He ran off to a new Manager, who wanted him to plead guilty. He wanted pro bono representation, which is why Lipman Karas was appointed.”

The AIU & Sport Resolutions were ‘advised’ that Manyonga had new legal representation…

However, as outlined in the AIU Decision, Lipman Karas LLP failed to locate Manyonga and withdrew from representing him on 5 May. The AIU says that it was ‘advised’ that Manyonga was represented by Weldrick (see right), who was copied into a 20 May email. 

The AIU argues that both Manyonga and Weldrick failed to reply by 26 May, and so the hearing proceeded without them on 28 May. Weldrick argues that this was because he couldn’t locate Manyonga, as even his family don’t know were he is.

Whereabouts aren’t simple

Guidance from UKAD on what information RTP athletes must provide…

It is safe to assume that Manyonga, who is an international athlete, is a member of ASA’s Registered Testing Pool (RTP). Athletes that are a member of a RTP must file information including their overnight location, competition and training schedules, as well as a location where they will be available for testing for one hour in every 24, three months in advance (although this can later be amended).

If the testers turn up and the athlete is not where they say they will be, this constitutes a ‘missed test’. If the filed information is judged to be inaccurate or incomplete, this constitutes a ‘filing failure’. Any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures in 12 months is judged to be an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) subject to a potential two year ban.

For most athletes, this is a relatively simple task. They can list their home address as their overnight accommodation, and for the location where they will be available for testing for one hour in every 24. However, what happens when you have no fixed abode? What happens when you haven’t got access to WiFi?

Due to Manyonga’s transient existence, DCOs had an arrangement to locate him…

Manyonga’s case illustrates that for some athletes, whereabouts requirements are a significant issue. Manyonga doesn’t have a home address and so for him, it appears that arrangements were made with DCOs about how to locate him for testing (see right). Lipman Karas LLP argued that a departure from this agreed procedure was the reason for his 26 November 2019 test.

Manyonga was also charged with two filing failures dating from 1 April 2020 and 1 October 2020. When you don’t have a home address with a WiFi signal, providing WADA with accurate information about your location three months in advance must be very difficult indeed.

Salwa Eid Naser struggled to submit whereabouts information…

Manyonga is not alone in struggling with whereabouts requirements. Salwa Eid Naser struggled to submit her whereabouts information, and was assigned a Technical Manager to complete it for her.

Unintended consequences

If Manyonga was ever on the radar, it is certain that he disappeared off it after being notified about his whereabouts failure charge. He was notified just before Christmas on 23 December 2020, and the AIU amended the charge on 8 January 2021. It appears that nobody has heard from him since.

His situation reveals the unintended consequences that can result from doping charges. Nobody has ever suggested that Manyonga has used prohibited substances to cheat at sport, but the 2012 Decision reveals that he does have a history of substance abuse due to his troubled background. His whereabouts charge may have pushed him back in that direction, which was nobody’s intention.

Manyonga’s case is important because it provides a reply to all of those who argue that whereabouts requirements are simple. They are if you have a house, WiFi access, a smartphone and a regular competition schedule. Many people take these luxuries for granted and forget that not all athletes have these privileges.

A simple text search for ‘whereabouts’ on this internet site reveals numerous arguments over whether athletes have filed their location correctly, as well as excuses about why they aren’t where they said they would be. In an era where athletes voluntarily track their location via applications such as Strava, a simpler solution could be possible. However WADA has previously rejected such developments due to privacy concerns, which are arguably misplaced.

The AIU cannot be blamed for enforcing anti-doping rules. Manyonga has committed an ADRV. Whether his career should end for a second doping offence is debatable. He is 30 years old. It appears he has been exploited and is struggling with addiction. If anything, sport should offer him a way out of his situation.

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