22 August 2018

Paola Pliego launches lawsuit over doping case

Paola Pliego has instructed lawyers to file a lawsuit against the Mexican fencing federation (FME) and Mexico’s national commission for physical culture and sport (CONADE) seeking damages, after a false positive cost her a place at the Rio 2016 Olympics. “I have received no apology from any Mexican sporting authority”, Pliego told a news conference on Monday, reported Marca. “On the other hand, they have breached commitments, threatened my career and thwarted my goals. They want to block me from exposing corruption in fencing and concealment by the Mexican authorities.”

“In the new lawsuit, there is nothing specific about corruption”, said Ricardo de Buen, one of a group of lawyers representing Pliego. “We are claiming in order to clear her name and to ask for compensation, due to her losing her place at the Rio 2016 Olympics, due to a clear mistake of the Mexican Laboratory”.

False positive

Pliego was provisionally suspended on 28 July 2016, days before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics, after a 24 June sample returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for modafinil. Modafinil is a cognition-enhancing agent that features as a banned stimulant on WADA’s Prohibited List.

Paul Greene, who represented Pliego in the original case alongside De Buen, said that she had taken Advil, a pain relief medication, and the Mexican Laboratory (Laboratorio Nacional de Prevencion y Control del Dopaje – LNPCD) had misinterpreted the test results. “They just false read the report and didn’t understand what they were looking for in terms of a modafinil positive”, said Greene. 

The Sports Integrity Initiative understands that the International Fencing Federation (FIE) drafted in Dr. Hans Geyer of the Cologne Laboratory to review the Mexican Laboratory’s handling of Pliego’s sample. Dr. Geyer conducted a second test on Pliego’s sample  and concluded that there was, in fact, no modafinil in the sample.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) suspended its accreditation of the Mexican Laboratory in November 2016, the same month in which Pliego announced that she had been cleared of any wrongdoing. The Laboratory was reinstated in December 2017, after successfully correcting ‘non-conformities with the International Standard for Laboratories (ISL)’. 

WADA does not tend to publish full details behind Laboratory suspensions. Therefore, we may never know for certain if Pliego’s case was behind its decision to suspend its accreditation of the Mexican Laboratory. 

There were, however, questions over whether the chain of custody for Pliego’s sample had been accurately documented, as required by WADA rules. It is understood that there was a six day gap in the chain of custody for Pliego’s sample. WADA’s ISL requires the Laboratory testing a sample to check the chain of custody. 

Allegations of corruption at the FME

Pliego has also made a number of corruption allegations against the FME, which are not related to her appeal. She alleges that the FME refused to allow her to compete in the 2018 Baltimore Women’s Sabre World Cup, which took place 26-28 January, despite the fact that a June 2016 adverse analytical finding (AAF) had been confirmed as a false. Pliego wrote to Carlos Padilla, President of the Mexican Olympic Committee (COM), alleging that corruption at the FME was damaging her career. She also offered to pay her own expenses to travel to the 2018 Fencing World Championships in Wuxi, China, after alleging that the FME had ignored her requests to register for the event.

In May, it was reported that the Central American and Caribbean Confederation of Fencing (CCCE) had refused to accept the 2017 re-election of Jorge Castro Rea as President of the FME, due to allegations of corruption that stretch back to 2013. It is understood that a Mexico’s Comisión de Apelación y Arbitraje del Deporte (CAAD) has ruled that the 2017 FME Assembly which re-elected Castro Rea was illegally constituted. It is understood that the FME has yet to respond to the ruling, which requested that a new Assembly must be convened. It is also understood that the Latin American Fencing Confederation (CIE) has refused to recognise a competition organised by Castro Rea in December 2017, ruling that it was illegally organised.

Lack of response

The Mexican sporting authorities (FME & CONADE) have yet to respond to Pliego’s lawsuit. Sporting authorities are generally keen to select the best athletes, and another explanation as to why she was not selected for recent international events may yet be forthcoming.

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