The WADA Code on Positive Tests

Everyone’s got a view on Alberto Contador today. But they’re not thinking about the rules that govern sport and in particular, anti-doping. Here’s the relevant part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Code:

2.1 Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete’s Sample
2.1.1 It is each Athlete’s personal duty to ensure that no Prohibited Substance enters his or her body. Athletes are responsible for any Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers found to be present in their Samples. Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing Use on the Athlete’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an antidoping violation under Article 2.1.

Comment to Article 2.1.1: ….If the positive Sample came from an In-Competition test, then the results of that Competition are automatically invalidated (Article 9 (Automatic Disqualification of Individual Results)). However, the Athlete then has the possibility to avoid or reduce sanctions if the Athlete can demonstrate that he or she was not at fault or significant fault (Article 10.5 (Elimination or Reduction of Period of Ineligibility Based on Exceptional Circumstances)) or in certain circumstances did not intend to enhance his or her sport performance (Article 10.4 (Elimination or Reduction of the Period of Ineligibility for Specified Substances under Specific Circumstances)).

In summary Article 2.1 says a positive test is positive test, no matter how the molecules get there. Contador cannot escape this. But the comment attached to the article, designed to help interpret the rules, says “the Athlete then has the possibility to avoid or reduce sanctions if the Athlete can demonstrate that he or she was not at fault or significant fault“. Put another way, Contador has to prove the tiny dose wasn’t caused by knowingly taking anything. But that’s not easy and further rules on the matter only make his case harder. Here’s the relevant rule on “No Significant Fault or Negligence”:

10.5.2 No Significant Fault or Negligence
If an Athlete or other Person establishes in an individual case that he or she bears No Significant Fault or Negligence, then the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility may be reduced, but the reduced period of Ineligibility may not be less than one-half of the period of Ineligibility otherwise applicable. If the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility is a lifetime, the reduced period under this Article may be no less than eight (8) years. When a Prohibited Substance or its Markers or Metabolites is detected in an Athlete’s Sample in violation of Article 2.1 (Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers), the Athlete must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system in order to have the period of Ineligibility reduced.

First 10.5.2 says if Contador can show he wasn’t really at fault, then the ban can be reduced. But note that’s a reduction in the ban, it does not exempt him from the positive test. A one year ban is possible. But, and this is a big but, notice the last sentence, “the Athlete must also establish how the Prohibited Substance entered his or her system“. This is going to be incredibly hard to establish.

So what happens?
The rules state that it doesn’t matter how small the dose is. The only certainty is that some lawyers will be billing big. Beyond this, we can only guess, forecast and speculate.

It’s up to Contador’s defence team to prove where the contamination come from and then to prove this was accidental and not-performance enhancing. In return, a ban could be avoided or reduced.

Either way a ban is almost inevitable. The onus is on Contador to prove his innocence and even the most overwhelming evidence in his favour can only be used to mitigate the ban. He will be stripped of his 2010 Tour de France win.

24 thoughts on “The WADA Code on Positive Tests”

  1. His big problem to solve now is that EU beef is traceable back to a single animal. It should therefore be relatively easy to show where the contaminated meat came from given that he claims to have brought the meat with him from Spain.

  2. Not that easy Alex. Yes every cow has a code on an ear ring and but once you buy some meat from a butchers in July, trying to trace it backwards is going to be hard. Although in theory the scheme exists for this very purpose. Short of someone else shoppig in the same place and freezing the meat, there surely won't be a lot of the animal left by now.

  3. Commenter elsewhere wondered about clause 10.3, under which the ban can be reduced to a reprimand (athlete not at fault, performance not enhanced, first offence).

  4. Certainly this has the potential to go to the CAS. But the subject is quite black and white:
    a) is it a positive test?
    b) can you *prove* the ingestion was accidental?

    It hangs on b) and the presumption here is that Contador has to prove his innocence here otherwise he's banned.

  5. Assuming this positive result was caused by ingested cooked meat, would pro cyclists have to rely on certified organic meat to ensure they remain clear of this problem in the future?

  6. Contador had the news on August 24, and says the meat was supplied by José Luis López-Cerrón – why aren't we hearing about meat samples seized on August 25th from wherever the meat was purchased?? They could have had the analysis long-completed by now.

  7. Well, it is a positive test. Else it wouldn't have been released. And it must be clearly above the threshold. I know some people working on doping test and doing research to improve them and they say there are much more positive test than are announced because all of these are so little above the threshold that it could be anything, natural cause, illness or doping and it's not worth the costs if the athletes take it to the CAS or other instances.
    I personally think he misjudged his dose and got caught and because he is a star and a cash cow to the UCI he gets his chance to prove his innocence. But there is the problem. Let us assume this theory about the spoiled meat is correct, I see no way how he is going to prove that. And he missed his free shot.

  8. And what about Section 9 about Automatic disqualification of the results? That means the Tour title will be stripped, regardless of his ban from competition. In my opinion, this is a downside of the strict liability provisions of the WADA code, and does not seem to jive with the other provisions where the fine can be reduced.

  9. OK, now I saw the official announcement of the UCI where it is stated that is 400 times lower than what the WADA must detect….now this sounds more like he pissed somebody off at the UCI.
    I mean I'm all for a clean sport but unfortunately the UCI isn't. They just use it as tool to ensure their power…

  10. Anonymous at 3.46 – it's more likely the lab, not the UCI that decides.

    It's possible politics and power-plays are at work but we need not assume that, the labs normally efficiently.

    And thanks to the others for all your comments, it's well-informed.

  11. Here's a fact sheet on traceability in EU foodstuffs.

    The horror! Alberto apparently (?) did not notify proper authorities in a timely manner about clenbuterol contamination in the Spanish food supply! How many other people were poisoned!!??

  12. On bovine traceability, the whole point of the EU scheme is that you can trace a source of infection right back to a single source. I used to work at Defra just after the FM&D outbreak so have far too much residual knowledge of how it works and its effectiveness in identifying meat sources.

    So, if the person alleged to have bought the meat can confirm where he bought it from and on what date, the retailer should be able to indicate where his produce sold on that day came from because of the rules which mean it has to be traceable to a single farm.

    From there it's a straight forward judicial investigation as Contador is alleging that someone has treated cattle with Clenbuterol which is illegal. The might of the spanish judicial investigation vs a small cattle farmer is a no contest in my book.

    My reading of the press conference was that Contador is prepared to go the full distance on the accidental ingestion path, pushing hard on the line that it was unreasonable to expect him to have done any more.

    So, if the UCI suspend him, is it up to the Spanish Fed to ratify the ban? If so, I can see them siding with his claim and it then going the CAS route if the UCI push for a ban

  13. Just wanted to ask :-
    If the meat was contaminated, how feasible is it for the steroid to survive the acidity of the stomach, be absorbed through the gut and pass into the urine? How much steroid would need to be in the meal for this to be realistic?

    Secondly, I've read that the steroid was present at concentrations 400 times lower than the detection limit specified by UCI. Why would the UCI specify a higher detection limit than the one used unless they perceive such low doses to possibly arise from contamination or accidental ingestion? I feel the cut-off issue allows wiggle room. If they are going to state a cut-off then they need update it as the technology progresses and not act against concentrations lower than it.

  14. Alex, some good points. It remains to be seen whether there's any meat left. And as a comment above reminds, us, if he knew the meat was suspect a month ago, why hasn't the search started?

    Anonymous 4:23 – I can't answer the question on the survival of the molecule. As for the 400x limit, that's about the accuracy of measurement in the lab. It's a ratio for the lab, not the athlete.

    Let's get this in perspective, Contador didn't win the Tour de France because of this tiny dose. But the rules state any positive sample means an automatic suspension and a ban is highly likely.

  15. What is bizarre to me is that we are testing urine and not blood. Anything present in urine merely tells you it is present. How do you get a titration out of a urine sample? In case that is not obvious, you can drink water to whatever degree and dilute the sample as a part of life. So, how is clenbuterol "present in low quantity"? Admittedly, I have a bit of a life so I have not read every chunk of minutia. Did blood get tested? I haven't read that it did.

    (… and for the record, I spent 3 weeks saying "no worries Andy my boy, they well get him for a positive")

  16. Interesting fact: A German Table Tennis Player got tested positive for the same stuff. He claims it must have been "dirty" meat too which he ate on his last China trip…

  17. Whatever the result, Riis' wonder move in the transfer market isn't looking so clever now.

    No Schleck, no Contador, no Cancellara. What in hell is he going to be doing next year?

  18. Translating the concentrations, it seems that Contador's blood levels of clenbuterol were the SAME to 1/2 the readings for TRS rider Fuyu Li who was banned for 2 years and is probably doing time in some Chinese labor camp right now.

    I just don't see him wriggling out of this one without actual tainted meat samples, followup with Spanish farms/food supply, or having it documented by the presence of clenbuterol in other diners.

  19. Thanks for the input so far guys. As TdF Lanterne Rouge has just said, Contador needs a lot of evidence because the rules demand he proves his innocence. The A and B samples are positive which is guilt under the rules.

    Are the rules unjust? Perhaps. Joe Lindsey in the Boulder Report certainly thinks they are too harsh and absolute. I'm sympathetic to this argument but also feel that once you allow room for genuine mistakes then quickly this gets exploited by those wanting loopholes.

    Once the rules are chipped away the whole system comes crashing down. We'll see…

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