Features 21st November 2019

Hiromasa Fujimori did not ‘test positive’ & was incorrectly sanctioned*

The international swimming federation (FINA) incorrectly sanctioned Hiromasa Fujimori with a two year ban, because methylephedrine was detected at such a low level in his sample it does not constitute an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’). A 14 December 2018 urine sample taken from Fujimori recorded 16 picograms per millilitre of methylephedrine, but under Section S6 of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List, methylephedrine is only prohibited at a concentration in urine at greater than ten micrograms per millilitre. 

The relevant section of WADA’s Prohibited List…

A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, whereas a microgram is one millionth of a gram. As such, the concentration of methylephedrine in Fujimori’s sample was 0.000016 micrograms per millilitre, a concentration permissible under WADA’s Prohibited List. Yet the Japanese swimmer, a hopeful for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, was sanctioned with a two year ban by FINA’s Doping Panel. 

‘A measurement of a Threshold Substance in a Sample shall be reported as an AAF when the value (expressed as a concentration, ratio or score of measured analytical values) exceeds, with an appropriate level of confidence (95%), the Threshold value (T) for that Prohibited Substance (or ratio or combination of substances or Markers) as defined by WADA’, reads WADA’s Technical Document on Decision Limits for the Confirmatory Quantification of Threshold Substances. It would appear that Fujimori’s sample is a long way from meeting that threshold limit.

The FINA Doping Panel argued that due to previous AAFs for methylephedrine in Japan, Fujimori would have received a three to six month ban had he claimed the source was a cold medication. However, it said that its ‘hands are tied’ into issuing a two year ban from 1 January 2019, because Fujimori could not prove the source of methylephedrine. ‘Mr. Fujimori determined that he would not state that he had used a cold medication, even though this would likely have preserved his athletic eligibility for the most important competition in his life’, read the FINA DP decision (PDF below).

However, the level of methylephedrine was so low that it should not have been considered as an AAF, let alone an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV). If the ban is allowed to stand, as now seems unlikely, Fujimori would lose his spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for not testing positive and having been honest about not knowing the source of methylephedrine in his urine. ‘As the global regulatory body, WADA reviews every decision made by a Code Signatory and this case is no exception’, read an email sent yesterday by a WADA spokesperson. 

* FINA later clarified that a ‘typographical error’ led to the AAF being reported in picograms instead of micrograms in the published Decision. However, it would appear that this mistake was carried over into Footnote One of the published Decision above, which highlights Fujimori’s A & B sample in picograms…

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