10 September 2015

Hull City midfielder will face no doping suspension

Jake Livermore, the Hull City midfielder, will not be banned from football after testing positive for cocaine. The 25-year-old professional footballer was suspended by the Football Association (FA) and his club, who play in the FA Premier League, following a positive drugs test in May. However following a disciplinary hearing, which concluded in early September, an independent Regulatory Commission determined that the circumstances surrounding the death of his new-born baby in the period before the infraction was a significant enough reason not to ban the player.

In a statement, the FA said that ‘due to the specific and unique nature of the circumstances surrounding the case, he [Livermore] will face no suspension.’ The Commission’s 19-page report featuring the reasons for their decision was published alongside the statement earlier today. In it, the Commission resolved that ‘the imposition of any period of suspension would be wholly unjust and disproportionate. Indeed in the Circumstances it would be unconscionable to impose any period of suspension.’

‘The presence of a Social Drug in a Participant’s Sample or the Use / Attempted Use of a Social Drug by a Participant is an Anti-Doping Rule Violation both In Competition and Out of Competition’, reads the FA’s 2014/15 Anti-Doping Regulations. Under Regulation 42, the standard ban for a doping offence is two years, which can be reduced down to a warning and a reprimand (Regulation 67), if it can be established that the doping was not intended to enhance sporting performance.

The FA’s Anti-Doping Regulations were introduced in 2014, before the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) introduced the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, which came into force on 1 January this year. The FA is a signatory to the 2015 Code, which raised the standard period of ineligibility to four years, unless an athlete can prove that the violation was not intentional, or if the anti-doping organisation can prove that the violation was intentional. However, Article 10.23 of the Code reads: ‘An anti-doping rule violation resulting from an Adverse Analytical Finding for a substance which is only prohibited In-Competition shall not be considered intentional if the substance is not a Specified Substance and the Athlete can establish that the Prohibited Substance was Used Out-of-Competition in a context unrelated to sport performance’. In cases such as these, the starting point for a ban is two years.

In its reasons, the Commission said that the ‘proportionality between the breach of the rules and the sanction which is imposed is a fundamental aspect of disciplinary proceedings in general and in respect of Anti-Doping in particular.’

The Commission continued that, ‘the Circumstances as identified herein, including those parts which are redacted, provide an extreme and unique case in which the imposition of a one year suspension pursuant to Regulation 70 (no significant fault or negligence) would be wholly unfair as well as evidently and grossly disproportionate. The degree of impairment in the present case was so severe and the Circumstances giving rise to it so extreme as to be unique.’

The commission made it clear that their decision was not intended to set a precedent but to highlight that ‘each case must be considered on its merits and individual facts’, noting that it would be a ‘very rare case that does not fall within the express sanctions’ provided under the Regulations and the WADA Code.

In an interview with the BBC last month, Hull manager Steve Bruce said that Livermore was in a ‘dark place’ when he tested positive for cocaine after the death of his new-born child in May 2014. ‘There’s no question it was a mitigating factor,’ Bruce reportedly said. ‘Unfortunately he lost his baby just after the FA Cup final last year. Jake has kept all of the problems that he had to himself. All footballers think they are macho-men but they have problems like everybody else.’

Livermore was provisionally suspended in May pending further investigation. ‘Following suspension by the FA, the Club has subsequently suspended Jake Livermore pending further investigations to be made by the FA and our own internal disciplinary procedures’, read a statement from Hull City. An e-mailed statement from the Football Association read: ‘In line with its anti-doping regulations, the FA can confirm it has issued a provisional suspension to a participant following a positive test for a prohibited substance’. Both Hull City and the FA declined to comment further at the time.

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