Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
Despite agreeing that a 35 year old Masters cyclist did not intend to cheat, the American Arbitration Association (AAA) has said that its ‘hands are tied’ into issuing a four-year ban, as the athlete failed to prove that a clenbuterol positive was caused by contaminated supplements or meat. Tony Blazejack returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for the anabolic agent following an in-competition test at the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships on 9 August 2016.
Tests for three supplements he had been taking came back negative for clenbuterol. Blazejack also submitted the result of a polygraph (lie detector) test where he was questioned about his use of clenbuterol. He also argued that the AAF could have been the result of a hamburger he bought from a ‘food truck’ before his August 2016 race.
Blazejack argued that the food truck purchased its meat from Costco, and a butcher who works there had told him via telephone that they purchased meat from Mexico. The panel received evidence from Costco that it did not purchase meat from Mexico.
‘The Panel, though willing to believe that Mr. Blazejack did not cheat, needs more than theories about contaminated meat and supplements’, read the full judgment (PDF below). ‘It simply was not established by a balance of probability that the ingestion of the clenbuterol was unintentional. The Panel does not believe that Mr. Blazejack was a cheater and would have welcomed evidence to support that belief. Unfortunately, under the existing rules, that belief alone is insufficient; the Panel’s hands are tied to issue a sanction of four years ineligibility.’
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has issued warnings regarding clenbuterol, which is still used in some countries (such as Mexico and China) to fatten cattle, despite being banned in the US since 1991 and by the European Union since 1996 – it has a Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) set by the same body. Clenbuterol is not a ‘specified substance’ on WADA’s Prohibited List, which means that there is no excuse for any presence in an athlete’s sample – however small the amount.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has accepted that small findings of clenbuterol below 1ng/ml of urine are consistent with meat contamination. This is less than the 2ng/ml that is generally considered to have an active effect on the human physiology. In 2012, Alberto Condator lost his 2010 Tour de France title and was sanctioned with a two-year ban after reporting an AAF for 50pg/ml of clenbuterol, 40 times less than the amount required to produce an active effect.
The AAA decision didn’t mention the levels of clenbuterol in Blazejack’s sample. The problem is that such trace findings are also consistent with somebody who has stopped using a prohibited substance (such as clenbuterol) before a race. This is why the requirement for proof of contamination is there.
Under the 2009 World Anti-Doping Code, sporting organisations could scale up the standard two-year sanction to a four-year ban if they could prove that doping was intentional – termed ‘aggravating circumstances’. However, proving that doping is intentional is notoriously difficult and the provision was barely used. Under the 2015 Code, the standard sanction is four years, which can be scaled down if an athlete can prove that they didn’t intend to dope. Athletes are now guilty of intentional doping unless they can prove they are innocent.
Unfortunately for Blazejack, these two aspects of anti-doping regulation have combined. Although the AAA panel accepted that he had not intended to cheat, it had no option but to issue him with a four-year ban.
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