7 August 2023

Guilty until you can prove innocence: anti-doping’s strict liability trap

• 36 athletes from 12 countries, competing in 12 sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light in the week ended 4 August 2023.

A central tenet of anti-doping is that an athlete charged with an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) is guilty until they can prove innocence. This reversal of presumption of innocence is uncommon in legal proceedings, but it is applicable to other areas of law. The same principle applies to traffic offences – for example, speeding.

Strict liability is essential for anti-doping to operate smoothly. However the broad brush approach to strict liability, and applying the same level of scrutiny to all athletes at all levels, can have unintended consequences. Seven of this week’s anti-doping cases involved cases where it appears unlikely that athletes intended to break anti-doping rules. 

Should ‘prohibition against participation’ whilst serving a ban apply to online courses?

Should a 53 year old Lawn Bowler who reports an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) due to blood pressure medication be subject to the same evidentiary requirements as an professional footballer or elite shot-putter? Should Anti-Doping Organisations (ADOs) be held responsible when amateur athletes are unaware that a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) is needed for medication? Should ‘prohibition against participation’ while subject to a ban cover online courses organised by sporting organisations?

Soumen Banerjee, a 53 year old Lawn Bowler from India, was sanctioned with a one year ban after returning an AAF for Eplerenone. It was Banerjee’s first ever anti-doping test in 30 years of competing; he had been prescribed Eplerenone for the past eight years; he wasn’t aware that his medication contained a prohibited substance; and he wasn’t aware of the TUE process.

Ludwig Amla, a professional footballer, moved to Canada from Denmark when he was six years old. The Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) accepted that an AAF for Terbutaline was caused by a Bricanyl asthma inhaler prescribed to him in Denmark and that he had continued to use. He was sanctioned with a two year ban.

The reason that Amla was given a two year ban in comparison to Banerjee’s one year ban has nothing to do with the level at which the two athletes compete. Despite being critical of Amla’s supporting network, the SDRCC rules that although he had no intention to dope, he was negligent for not ascertaining if Bricanyl contained prohibited substances. 

A reminder. He was prescribed Bricanyl before he moved to Canada at the age of six.

India’a Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) ruled that Banerjee’s AAF was unintentional, and he was able to establish no significant fault or negligence. As the circumstances of his case are similar to that of Amla’s case, as in that he had been a long term (eight years) user of his medication. It would appear that in escaping with a one year ban, Banerjee got lucky.

Gwendolyn Berry won Gold in the Hammer Throw at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. There has been widespread criticism, via social media, after she was sanctioned with a 16 month ban for a second ADRV. 


In 2016 she was sanctioned with a three month ban, after the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) accepted that her AAF for Vilanterol Trifenatate was due to a prescribed inhaler to treat asthma. This week, she was sanctioned with a 16 month ban after USADA accepted that her ADRV for Canrenone was due to topical medication containing Spironolactone for which she had a prescription, but no TUE. 

Given the above circumstances, her ban might be considered harsh. Berry is 34, and will miss the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Radha Chaudhary was not as lucky as the three athletes listed above. The Middle Distance runner was sanctioned with a two year ban, after India’s ADDP viewed her claim that an AAF for Clomifene was due to fertility treatment was an attempt to escape liability. This is despite the submission of medical papers to support her claim.

The headline news this week was WADA’s Decision to review the analytical procedures around the Erythropoietin (EPO) test, after Australian 800m runner Peter Bol was cleared of doping. Bol isn’t the only athlete to claim that there are flaws in EPO analysis, but he is the first who has been able to afford to finance a defence against the validity of the test. 

Conor Benn was also cleared to compete by the UK’s National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) this week, in another case involving female fertility drug Clomifene. UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has 21 days from 28 July in which to lodge an appeal.

What is common in all of the above cases is that there is no evidence of any intent to dope. But because the athletes protest their innocence, they are hit with the full force of anti-doping jurisprudence. There is no guidance on what assistance ADOs should provide to athletes in proving their innocence, which leads to differing approaches and – consequently – wildly differing sanctions in circumstances that are often very similar.

Article 10.8.1 of the World Anti-Doping Code…

Add into that mix Article 10.8.1, which was introduced into the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. This allows ADOs to offer athletes charged with an ADRV that would result in a four year ban a one year reduction, if they ‘admit’ their ADRV within 20 days of being charged. In cases where Article 10.8.1 is triggered, no hearing is held and there is no investigation into the circumstances of the ADRV. 

How many innocent athletes have decided that this is the easier option? How many sporting organisations or Coaches have pressured their athletes to take this route? 

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to the editor by clicking here. Also, if you’re an athlete, national anti-doping organisation (NADO) or other Results Management Authority and you’d like us to cover a case that you’re involved with, please get in touch! Also – a reminder. The SII Anti-Doping Monitor only features confirmed AAFs (‘positive tests’) or confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs).

Decision links

Mauricio Donizeti Ramos Junior (ABCD List of Suspended Athletes);

Zohra Crain, Diego Alberto Ruiz, Johan Smith (SAIDS List of cases);

Bader Alshammari (ITA/IWF List of Sanctions);

Aneesh Kumar Surendran Pillai (List of Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel Decisions, full Decision);

Radha Chaudhary (List of Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel Decisions, full Decision);

Ajay Kumar (List of Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel Decisions, full Decision);

Soumen Banerjee (List of Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel Decisions, full Decision);

Janat Chemusto (AIU List of Provisional Suspensions);

Oluoch Brandon Abednego (ADAK List of Decisions, full Decision);

Joel Maina Mwangi (AIU Decision; original Decision);

Conor Benn (Athlete Twitter Statement, UKAD Statement);

Thiago Braz (AIU List of Provisional Suspensions);

Maria Osokina, Dmitry Soikku (RusAF Statement, YouTube Video & Coach’s Instagram allege athletes were spiked with Meldonium) ‘Winner of the Russian championship U23 in cross-country, champion of St. Petersburg, silver medalist of the Russian championship in half marathon. After the latter, a prohibited drug was found in Dima’s doping test. As a result of an internal investigation, Soikku’s coach, Vadim Drozdov, believes that Mildronate (Meldonium) was mixed with Dima and his teammate, Maria Osokina…’ ‘At the beginning of this text, I will immediately state that I will make it clear who and how did it in a way that does not violate the rules of the defamation law, just like other legislation. There are legal formalities and this is realities. However, the law does not forbid us to talk about the process of litigation (that’s where you can call the name freely). The person we will write about later got 21.1 km on the “Northern Capital” in 2021 in the top 10 (from 6th to 10th place). Logically, many can assume everything perfectly. Those who have nothing to do with this situation do not even need to prove anything to anyone. It will be so clear in the text below. Proving mixing prohibited drugs in sports is archaic if there is no direct evidence for the court (e.g. video footage). Interference in such situations becomes known much later after the event itself, and finding this direct evidence is often unlikely to be real. Therefore, there is our understanding of the situation, and there is court proceedings. Let’s not mix it up and talk about what we know for ourselves for sure. On August 16, Maria Osokina will take a non-competitive doping test (she is included in the testing pool and a doping control can come to her every day if needed). After 3 weeks, he received the result, indicating that Meldonium was found in the sample. There is a request for concentration in the sample, and it comes only in a month. About 2 months have passed since the fence. Will you find a lot of direct evidence of adulteration for court in 2 months? By this time, we already know about the suspension of Dmitry Soikku, as well as for Meldonium and his concentration. This doping test sent Maria on suspension, but it was him who made us understand who did it. It helped to understand the obtained concentration of the Meldonium. She was just “space”. And this happens only in the first days after receiving a large dose (then it decreases significantly). The mediator was “burnt” by the fact that doping control came almost immediately after the action. Continued on the merry-go-round. From September this year, Dmitry Soikka and Maria Osokina may start competing. The proceedings lasted for almost 2 years and each of them received the same 2 years as a punishment for negligence (including the time of suspension). 2 years that no one will give them back. They are guilty of not sufficiently protecting themselves from mixing Meldonium in the water by a third person. I think that’s the most that could be done in this situation. There have been a lot in these 2 years. From wasting time on “merged” unilaterally right before the first hearings of a lawyer, who in six months of work has not fulfilled a single agreement and loved Prosecco very much, to going through polygraphs, what could you think about participating in the “Detector” show. None of them abandoned to train. This means that they will soon be on the starting line. As before, only psychologically stronger. Solution screens from RUSADA with important information are attached. Those who read carefully will see everything there…Be aware of your surrondings. You can only trust yourself 100 percent. And that’s not always. From the time of publishing this post, the person who poisoned Maria Osokina and Dmitry Soikka will have exactly 24 hours to write a sincere confession to RUSADA (then there will be more chances to justify them). Otherwise, tomorrow at the same time, there will be a post with information in which I will explain who and how did this poisoning. This person is the only person who contacted Masha and Dima during the period of poisoning, had a motive and even failed the printing examination “with a bang” (it was worse than it). We’ve known who did this for over a year. Maybe it’s time to share with you…’

Anastasia Filonova (RUSADA Statement);

Seda Krylova (RUSADA Statement);

Grigory Pasevin (RUSADA Statement);

Robert Badalyan (RUSADA Statement);

Alex Baudin (UCI Statement, team Statement);

Peter Bol (SIA Statement, WADA Statement, Athlete Statement, Athletics Australia Statement);

D. Netto (Hyderabad Race Club Statement, full Decision); 

Gwendolyn Berry (USADA Statement);

Robert Stannard (Athlete Statement);

Ludwig Amla (CCES Statement, full Decision);

Carina Horn (AIU List of First Instance Decisions, full Decision, original 2021 ban Decision);

Alexander Kvaskov (RUSADA Decision);

Yuriy Selikhov (RUSADA Decision);

Denis Ogarkov (RUSADA Decision);

Anastasia Kyryenko (RUSADA Decision);

Anna Hvorykova (RUSADA Decision);

Natalya Shaymanova (RUSADA Decision);

Yevgeny Tsysar (RUSADA Decision);

Moris Sammassimo (NADO Italia Decision);

Massimo Rubino (NADO Italia Decision)

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