28 March 2023

The SII Anti-Doping Monitor – week ended 24 March 2023

Thirteen athletes from six countries, competing in eight sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light during the week ended 24 March. New Zealand distance runner Zane Robertson hit the headlines after he was sanctioned with an eight year ban not only for an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) involving Erythropoietin (EPO), but for fabricating a story about his adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) being due to hospital treatment for Covid-19 whilst in Kenya.

Robertson claimed that he had attended a Kenyan hospital seeking a vaccination for Covid-19, but instead had been administered treatment for Covid-19 symptoms, which included administration of EPO. He produced two affidavits from two Kenyan Doctors, hospital notes, and a witness statement from a Kenyan detective.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) engaged the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), which produced a letter from the Vice President of the medical facility stating that Robertson hadn’t been treated with EPO and hadn’t attended the medical facility on the day claimed. In addition, it was found that one of the ‘Doctors’ relied upon was a Laboratory Technician, the other was not employed at the facility, and a patient number listed on hospital notes didn’t refer to Robertson. 

As such, Robertson was sanctioned with a four year ban for an ADRV involving EPO, and an additional four year ban for tampering. After being made aware of the evidence collected by DFSNZ, Robertson decided against contesting the sanction.

Kanak Jha became the latest athlete to fall victim to sport’s so-called ‘whereabouts’ rules. The table tennis player has represented the US at the Olympics and is a four times national champion, so is a member of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) National Testing Pool (NTP). 

Under the World Anti-Doping Code, athletes that are members of a Registered (or National) Testing Pool (RTP) must file information indicating their location for testing. This includes their overnight location, competition and training schedules, as well as a location where they will be available for testing for one hour in every 24, three months in advance (although this can later be amended) through the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). 

If the athlete is not where they say they will be, that constitutes a ‘Missed Test’. If the filed information is judged to be inaccurate or incomplete, that constitutes a ‘Filing Failure’. Any combination of three Missed Tests and/or Filing Failures is sanctioned as a ‘whereabouts failure’, equivalent to an ADRV subject to a two year ban.

Jha admitted missing a test on 18 March 2022, and admitted a filing failure on 2 June 2022, after failing to update his location from his home address in Ochsenhausen, Germany, to California. He updated his whereabouts information to indicate a change of address in Ochsenhausen, but failed to change his whereabouts slots on 1pm and 2pm on 4 and 5 September, which indicated his old address.

Acting on behalf of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the International Testing Agency (ITA) sent a Doping Control Officer (DCO) to his old address to collect a sample on 4 September. After failing to locate the athlete and failing to contact him by phone, the DCO went to his training address and also his new address, which he was able to access through Jha’s whereabouts filings on ADAMS. The DCO could not locate him.

Jha realised his mistake when updating his whereabouts on 5 September, and changed his address. On 16 September, USADA notified the athlete that a DCO from the ITTF had attempted to locate him at his old address, had filed an unsuccessful test attempt report, and that USADA considered this a whereabouts failure. He also said he was at his new address for the entire one hour testing window, after which he went to his training facility, and claimed that he didn’t receive a phone call from the DCO.

It was found that the DCO had failed to use the ‘001’ US international dealing code when attempting to contact Jha, and had filed a report stating that the call never went through. Jha was at his new home address for the entire one hour time slot on 4 September. The DCO was at his old address for the entire one hour time slot on 4 September. 

After the one hour time slot was over, the DCO went to Jha’s training centre and then to his new address. After the one hour time slot was over, Jha went to his training centre. Given that Jha’s old address is within 2km of his old address, it is possible that they passed each other in the street.

A DCO is permitted to phone an athlete in the last five minutes of a 1hr slot, but it isn’t a requirement (click to open…)

Jha disputed that the 4 September unsuccessful test report should be considered as a Missed Test, as the DCO had failed to phone him during the last five minutes of the one hour window. However a comment to Article of the WADA’s International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI) states that while a DCO is permitted to phone an athlete only during the last five minutes of a one hour window, it is not a requirement.

‘It would seem to be helpful if athletes were instructed to include their international country code as part of their phone number when entering their whereabouts information’, stated the American Arbitration Association (AAA) in its Decision. ‘Consideration also might be given to including a specific box that must be filled in with an international country code when athletes enter their phone numbers into the whereabouts information system’.

As such, Jha was found guilty of a whereabouts violation, and was sanctioned with a one year ban from 1 December 2022 to 1 December 2023. He will not be able to participate in the 2023 Pan American Games or this year’s ITTF World Championships and will lose his world ranking, making his qualification prospects for the Paris 2024 Olympics doubtful.  

‘The Arbitrator is mindful of Respondent’s situation’, reads the Decision. ‘He is a gifted athlete. There is no evidence that he has ever taken performance enhancing drugs. Any period of ineligibility will affect his table tennis career negatively. However, these factors are not relevant in determining the length of Respondent’s period of ineligibility.’ 

There is nothing to suggest that the ITTF or the ITA’s selection of the 4 September test date was anything other than random. However, it is not hard to see how an anti-doping organisation that is keen to boost its rate of successful ADRV convictions might use discrepancies in whereabouts filings to target athletes who have genuinely made filing mistakes.

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to the editor by clicking here. Also, if you’re an athlete, national anti-doping organisation (NADO) or other Results Management Authority and you’d like us to cover a case that you’re involved with, please get in touch! Also – a reminder. The SII Anti-Doping Monitor only features confirmed AAFs (‘positive tests’) or confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs).

Decision links

Amir Hossein Toukhteh and Ali Sharifi Firangi (Iran NADO Statement);

Kanak Jha (USADA Statement, AAA Decision);

Alistair Overeem (Confirmed by Glory World Series via email);

Zane Robertson (DFSNZ Statement, STNZ Statement, STNZ Decision, Athletics NZ Statement, NZ Olympic Statement);

Federico Telandro (NADO Italia Statement);

Russell Spiers (UKAD Statement, full Decision);

Bogdan Pishchalnikov, Maxim Sidorov, Igor Vinichenko (RusAF Statement);

Alan Amriev (RUSADA Statement);

Ekaterina Pugacheva (RUSADA Statement);

Giuseppe Santelli (NADO Italia Statement)

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