23rd October 2021

The SII Anti-Doping Monitor – week ending 22 October 2021

Two cases from this week reveal how a differing approach to evidence from athletes charged with an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) can engender or endanger athlete trust in an anti-doping organisation (ADO). Such trust is necessary in order to discover the people and processes that enable athletes to dope. Athletes considering coming forward with information need to know that it will be fully investigated and not dismissed, and therefore watch how ADOs deal with athletes.

Under Article 20.1.9 of the World Anti-Doping Code, signatories agree to ‘vigorously pursue all potential anti-doping rule violations within its authority including investigation into whether Athlete Support Personnel or other Persons may have been involved in each case of doping’. Coupled with the strict liability principles that underpin anti-doping, this can be a double-edged sword. 

Under the rules, ADOs don’t have any obligation to help athletes discover how they tested positive. Under the strict liability principles of anti-doping, the athlete is considered guilty unless they can prove they are innocent. It is far easier, and cheaper, to always blame the athlete and push for the maximum sanction. 

Recent changes to the Code make it far easier for ADOs to do this. Under Article 10.8.1, athletes who ‘accept’ a four year sanction can receive a one year reduction for ‘admitting’ an ADRV within 20 days of being charged. If you are a financially challenged young athlete, the Code now makes admitting to something you didn’t do a very enticing prospect. 

ADOs are incentivised to pressure athletes into early admission, saving them the time and cost of a hearing. However taking this approach may risk undermining athlete trust and missing vital information about the people and processes that underpin doping. 

To take an extreme example. An athlete that tests positive for recombinant Erythropoietin (rEPO) in an Olympic final can receive a one year reduction in a four year ban for admitting the offence within 20 days. Case closed. Athlete can compete in the next Olympics, and those who helped that athlete dope escape investigation.

On a much smaller scale, this approach can also prohibit ADOs from discovering why and how athletes test positive. Erin McBride is a 23 year old visually impaired athlete who has recently switched from sprinting to para cycling. 

She returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) for ostarine at the British Cycling velodrome on 3 March. She argued that she didn’t knowingly take ostarine, and requested that the B sample be analysed. 

McBride’s explanations were discounted by UKAD after she ‘admitted’ her ADRV…

She argued that as she is visually impaired, she had difficulties in controlling her environment; that her separation from her boyfriend had prevented her from investigating any supplements he was using; and that her financial situation made it difficult to investigate every possible source of contamination. Threatened with a four year ban, she ‘admitted’ an ADRV she asserts she never intentionally committed in order to claw one year of her career back. 

We still don’t know the source of the ostarine, which has turned up in a number of supplements. Did her boyfriend spike her? Was a Coach involved? We will never know.

More athletes are therefore likely to report AAFs for ostarine in the future. This is great for UKAD, but not for athletes. It also shuts down any possibility of learning more about why athletes test positive, and her harsh treatment is likely to scare athletes off coming forward with any information about doping that might also implicate themselves.

The second case involved another Paralympic athlete who blamed his Coach for an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Desmond Jackson blamed pills given to him by his Coach, Jamaal Daniels, ahead of the US Paralympic Track and Field Trials on 18 June. USADA listened to his explanation and ultimately, Daniels was sanctioned with a four year ban whilst Jackson received a 14 month ban. 

Say USADA had discounted Jackson’s explanation and pushed for a four year ban, offering a one year reduction for admission within 20 days? Daniels would still be coaching and may still be offering athletes DHEA pills.

Of course, the two situations are very different and there is nothing to suggest that UKAD wouldn’t adopt a similar approach to USADA if confronted with the same situation. Indeed, under Article 20.1.9 of the Code it could be sanctioned for not doing so.

UKAD has had a terrible week. The above case does provide an insight into why it may never get to the bottom of allegations of doping that have plagued British sport. In not fully investigating whether such athlete explanations are a possibility, it is cutting dead a source of potentially valuable information. 

Athletes see UKAD pushing for maximum sanctions against athletes and discounting their explanations. They also see weak explanations as to why UKAD hasn’t investigated serious allegations suggesting systemic issues at the heart of British sport. The danger is that UKAD will entirely lose the trust of athletes, if it hasn’t already.

As can be seen from the table below, 15 athletes from six countries, competing in ten sports were involved with anti-doping procedures this week. The strict liability principles of anti-doping saw a Russian volleyball player sanctioned with a nine month ban for an offence back in 2013, based on data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory.

The substance involved, methylhexanamine, wasn’t one considered to be connected with the Russian State doping programme, but the AAF was hidden from WADA. Dmitriy Muserskiy (Дмитрий Мусэрский) was therefore sanctioned with a nine month ban from 5 April 2021, which meant that he missed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Is that fair for an ADRV back in 2013 that he didn’t know he had committed? Have athletes been protected from any advantage he may have gained back in 2013 in 2021?

Please continue to send any suggestions through to our 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!

Decision links

Juan Manuel Luzardo, Khldoon Mood Al Sayed, Mohammad Said, Emanuele Broccolini, Pierpaolo Ficara, Riccardo Moraschini, Kevin Lee (details here);
Mirko Bassetto, Piero Rinaldini (details here);
Marco Bergo (details here);
Dmitriy Muserskiy;
Igor Polyanskiy;
Desmond Jackson;
Jamaal Daniels;
Erin McBride

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