4th August 2020

Tennis player alleges legal team told him to lie to reduce ban

A tennis player has alleged that his legal team, led by a former member of both the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), convinced him to lie to the CAS about the source of his adverse analytical finding (AAF) in order to obtain a reduced ban. Former professional tennis player Mariano Puerta told La Nacion that he was advised that the lie would help reduce a ban from eight years to two. 

In December 2005, the ITF issued Puerta with an eight year ban due to an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for etilefrine, as it was his second offence. He was issued with a nine month suspension for an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) involving clenbuterol in 2003, which was reduced from two years as the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) accepted it was due to asthma medication. 

Detail from Puerta’s explanation…

The ITF accepted that Puerta’s 2005 adverse analytical finding (AAF) for etilefrine was inadvertent. It didn’t accept or reject his explanation, corroborated by his wife, that he had reused a glass which had contained her ‘Effortil’ medication ahead of the 5 June 2005 Roland Garros final, which he lost to Rafael Nadal. He returned his AAF after the match.

Puerta appealed to the CAS. The CAS Panel accepted his explanation, and ruled that given the circumstances of the case, an eight year ban would be disproportionate. 

‘In the Panel’s view, an eight year sanction in the present case is indistinguishable from a lifetime ban: it brings Mr Puerta’s career to an end’, reads the Full Decision (PDF below). ‘And to bring an athlete’s career to an end in circumstances in which, although he has breached the WADC (or its equivalent) on two occasions, it has been determined on each occasion that Exceptional Circumstances justifying a reduced sanction had been present, does not commend itself to the Panel as being a just and proportionate sanction’.

Puerta told La Nacion that the explanation was concocted by his legal team, led by the late Eduardo Moliné O’Connor, a former Minister of Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice, former Vice President of the Argentinean Tennis Federation, a member of the ITF and of the CAS from 1998 to 2006. Puerta said that the source of his etilefrine AAF was ginseng and caffeine pills supplied by a friend of his fitness coach, former weightlifter Darío Lecman, as he couldn’t obtain his usual brand (Lecman denies this). Puerta said that this was confirmed, as he had kept the bottle and seven of the pills tested positive for etilefrine. 

Further detail from the CAS ruling…

The effectiveness of the strategy is outlined in the CAS Decision. It points out numerous cases (see right) where athletes have failed to obtain a reduction in their sanction for ‘no significant fault or negligence’ due to failure to check the source or ingredients of supplements or vitamins. If Puerta had presented his ginseng and caffeine pills, as well as the results of the tests performed on them, it appears unlikely that he would have benefited from a significant reduction in his ban.

‘Proceeding from the premise that each case must demonstrate exceptional circumstances, the Panel has concluded, after examining and evaluating the facts in their totality, that the ingestion of etilefrine occurred inadvertently’, concludes the CAS Panel. ‘Although Mr Puerta acted negligently in not ensuring, despite his brief absence, that his previous glass had not been used by another person, the degree of his negligence is so slight that a finding of “No Significant Fault or Negligence” is inevitable and necessary.’

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