19 November 2019

Honesty and integrity cost swimmer his Olympic place

A refusal to lie about the source of a positive test has cost a promising Japanese swimmer his spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Hiromasa Fujimori refused to say that his 14 December 2018 adverse analytical finding (AAF) for methylephedrine was caused by a cold medication, which the international swimming federation (FINA) admitted would be ‘highly likely’ to result in a three to six month ban, due to four previous methylephedrine AAFs in Japan being caused by cold medications. As a result of his honesty and because he could not prove the source of the methylephedrine, Fujimori was sanctioned with a two year ban from 1 January 2019. 

‘Ultimately, valuing honesty and integrity even over the once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to participate in an Olympic Games held in his home country, Mr. Fujimori refused to permit his legal team to even suggest that he believed a cold medication might have caused his positive test’, reads the FINA Doping Panel Decision (PDF below). ‘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’.

‘Importantly, a 3 to 6 month suspension would have allowed Hiromasa Fujimori to compete in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games’, continues the Decision. ‘Moreover, the relevant anti-doping rules allow a reduction from a two year ban only if the athlete is able to identify the source of his or her positive test. However, Mr. Fujimori tested all the supplements and medications he was using that he believed could have caused his positive test and none showed the presence methylephedrine.’

The FINA Doping Panel said that it is ‘firmly convinced’ that Fujimori did not intend to enhance its sporting performance, and the ‘most likely’ explanation was a contaminated supplement or medication. His sample contained an ‘extremely low’ concentration of the stimulant at 16 picograms per millilitre. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, meaning that Fujimori’s AAF involved 16 trillionths of a gram of methylephedrine.

‘Regrettably, however, even though the substance at issue is a “Specified Substance,” meaning that it is a substance categorized by WADA as “more likely to have been consumed by an Athlete for a purpose other than the enhancement of sport performance,” the rules do not permit a downward departure from two years ineligibility without Mr. Fujimori having identified the source of his positive test’, reads the Decision. ‘The FINA DP’s hands are tied in this regard even though internet research reveals the extensive use of methylephedrine as an ingredient (both listed and unlisted and as a product contaminant) in supplements and in common over-the-counter cold medications and the Athlete’s positive test is susceptible to a multitude of possible (and this Panel finds on the facts of this case probable) non-doping, alternative causes. The FINA DP regrets the lack of express authority within the rules to reduce Mr. Fujimori’s sanction in this case.’

The FINA DP has asked the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to review the case, to see if an exception can be made to reduce Fujimori’s sanction. ‘As the global regulatory body, WADA reviews every decision made by a Code Signatory and this case is no exception’, read an email from a WADA spokesperson.

‘The Panel commends Mr. Fujimori in acknowledging the temptation to lie and rejecting that temptation’, reads the Decision. ‘Truly, this is an example of the “Olympism” referenced in the Olympic Charter and of what is referred to as the “the spirit of sport” in the Introduction to the World Anti-Doping Code’. 

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