24th August 2021

Recent AIU Decisions highlight inequity of doping sanctions

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics has recently announced that two athletes who tested positive for prohibited substances have received one year reductions to four year bans after admitting anti-doping rule violations (ADRV). Mark Dry was sanctioned with a four year ban after admitting lying about going fishing in a situation that wouldn’t have constituted an ADRV at all.

Yousef Karam, a 28yr old sprinter from Kuwait, returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) for Ibutamoren at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Karlsruhe, Germany, on 28 January. Ibutamoren is an investigational growth hormone not approved for human use, often used in the bodybuilding community due to its ability to facilitate growth of lean muscle mass.

Karam told the AIU that following a December 2020 injury, he had met an individual at the gym who had given him pills to help with his injury. He claimed that the individual showed him two bottles of multivitamins, one of which indicated it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). As such, he claimed that he only took the other supplement. After being notified about his AAF by the AIU, Karam claimed to have spoken with the individual who told him that both supplements contained Ibutamoren. 

After being charged by the AIU on 10 August, Karam admitted the ADRV and signed an acceptance of consequences form on 16 August. The AIU said that as Karam hasn’t demonstrated that the ADRV wasn’t intentional (i.e. it was intentional), the standard sanction is four years. 

However, ‘Rule 10.8.1 ADR provides that an athlete potentially subject to an asserted period of Ineligibility of four (4) years may benefit from a one (1)-year reduction in the period of Ineligibility based on an early admission and acceptance of sanction’, it adds. As such, Karam was sanctioned1 with a three year ban from 30 March 2021, the date of his provisional suspension.

Racheal Mutgaa, a Kenyan Marathon runner, returned an AAF for metabolites of exogenous (external, or ‘synthetic’) testosterone at the Milan Marathon on 16 May. After being notified of her AAF on 3 August, Mutgaa admitted her ADRV on 10 August. She also received2 a one year reduction to the standard four year ban for the same reasons as Karam, which will run for three years from 3 August.

It’s not about doping – it’s about rules

To sum up; two athletes were caught using prohibited substances commonly used to cheat in sport after testing positive in competition. Only after being notified that they had tested positive did they admit their ADRVs and due to their admission, they received a one year reduction in their ban. In Karam’s case, his reduced ban was backdated to the date of his provisional suspension, despite no indication of any investigation into whether his story about being given ‘multivitamins’ at a gym was true3.

Mark Dry admitted inventing a story about going fishing after DCOs couldn’t find him at his home address. He was a member of the UK Athletics (UKA) Domestic Testing Pool (DTP). As such, even if he had committed three ‘whereabouts’ failures or his conduct had been considered especially egregious, he would only have been bumped up to the Registered Testing Pool (RTP) where his ‘whereabouts’ would have been reset to zero, and three more strikes in 12 months would have resulted in an ADRV.

After being correctly told by UKAD that there would be ‘no consequences’ for his DTP filing failure, UKAD threatened with an eight year ban for ‘Tampering’ with doping control, and sanctioned him with a four year ban. Under the 2021 Code he was able to apply to have his four year ban halved if he was able to demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’, however UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) was only prepared to reduce his ban to 28 months and refused to backdate it.

Of course, lying to Doping Control is wrong and should be punished, especially when the athlete concerned is attempting to avoid being sanctioned for an ADRV. However, Dry wasn’t trying to avoid an ADRV. As UKAD correctly informed him, he was a member of the DTP and couldn’t have been sanctioned with an ADRV for a ‘whereabouts’ filing failure. There was no suggestion from UKAD that he had used prohibited substances. 

Athletes also need to be given credit for early admission of doping offences. However, in cases where they’ve literally been caught doping in competition, is it ethical to allow a one year reduction for admission after having been caught? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this provision is only in place so that anti-doping organisations (ADOs) can avoid the cost of pursuing cases.

Karam received a three year backdated ban after having been caught intentionally doping in competition. Mutgaa was also caught doping in competition, and received a three year ban for later admitting it. Dry admitted lying in a situation that wouldn’t involve a doping ban, and received a four year ban following his admission. The cases illustrate just how far anti-doping has evolved into banning athletes in order to enforce anti-doping rules, rather than punishing intentional users of prohibited substances. 


Footnotes

1. The Full Decision is available here: https://www.athleticsintegrity.org/downloads/pdfs/disciplinary-process/en/210818-AIU-21-010-KARAM_DECISION_FINAL.pdf
2. The Full Decision is available here: https://www.athleticsintegrity.org/downloads/pdfs/disciplinary-process/en/210817-AIU-21-123-MUTGAA_DECISION_FINAL.pdf
3. The Athletics Integrity Unit has been asked if it investigated whether Karam’s explanation was true.

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