Rasmussen Banned… And Lessons To Learn

Regular readers will know I’ve been following the case of Danish rider Alex Rasmussen closely since last September when news emerged that he’d committed three anti-doping “whereabouts” faults. Normally this constitutes an anti-doping violation under the rules, meaning a ban was likely. He got fired by his team, HTC-Columbia but when the case was heard by the Danmarks Cykle Union he was cleared. Only the case went to appeal and yesterday he lost.

The case is bigger than one rider as it covers the systemic issue of out-of-competition testing, the logging of an athlete’s “whereabouts” and also exposes discrepancies in the UCI rules which have to be fixed.

As spotted by this blog it turned out administrative blunders meant the Dane wasn’t properly notified of one of the missed tests implying it was dropped and instead of “three strikes and out” he was sitting on two warnings. However the UCI appealed the Danish verdict and yesterday the Court of Abitration for Sport ruled that Rasmussen should be banned, albeit for a reduced length.

Let’s quickly recap the rules; if you know them skip this paragraph. Many riders form part of the UCI’s Registered Testing Pool. The pool contains most of the top riders and all riders with a Bio Passport are included, plus other criteria for inclusion include rankings, results and past disciplinary hearings. Normally these riders are tested more frequently than others and above all they must take part in the UCI’s Whereabouts scheme. This means that four times a year a rider must say where they will be for every day of the next three months so that anti-doping officers can track them down for out-of-competition tests. Riders specify a one hour slot for every day. In a sport like cycling where people are on the move it’s common to block book a slot at home at 7.00am and then log back into the system, called ADAMS, to update it with new info once a rider knows which races they will be on. But if a rider doesn’t log in in time to state where they will be for the next quarter then this constitutes a whereabouts failure. The same happens if anti-doping officials appear at the specified time and address to conduct an out-of-competition doping control but the athlete is not present, the “no show” counts as another whereabouts failure. Get three whereabouts failures in 18 months and this constitutes an anti-doping violation and the athlete faces a two year ban.

Here are Rasmussen’s three whereabouts failures:

  • On 1February 2010 officers of the Danish National Anti-Doping Organisation (ADD) unsuccessfully tried to locate Rasmussen for an out-of-competition doping control at the place he had indicated on ADAMS for that day: instead of being in Denmark, he was in Germany competing in the Berlin Six Day race.
  • On 4 October 2010 ADD notified Rasmussen of a potential failure to file his whereabouts information for the fourth quarter of 2011 by the deadline of 30 September 2010. Following said notification, Rasmussen filed the missing information on 5  October 2010.
  • On 28 April 2011, officers of the UCI unsuccessfully tried to locate Rasmussen for an out-of-competition doping control at the place in Spain he had indicated in ADAMS for that day: the UCI officers could only get in touch with Rasmussen on the phone, to discover that he was in Denmark, for his sister’s confirmation.

It’s here things get complicated. Under the WADA Code an athlete should be notified of any Whereabouts failures within 14 days. But the UCI rules are not so clear. Here is UCI anti-doping rule 105:

105. UCI shall give notice to the Rider of any apparent Whereabouts Failure inviting a response within 14 (fourteen) days of receipt of the notice.

It turns out the UCI waited until July to inform Rasmussen and then August to record his third whereabouts failure. So instead of being told within 14 days, the formal communication of the April no-show was months later. Under WADA rules this would not count, the athlete must be notified within 14 days and then if proceedings begin, these must start within 30 days, meaning a total window of 44 days whilst the UCI took several months.

Indeed there were the grounds that acquitted Rasmussen when the Danish hearing took place. Here’s part of their judgement (my emphasis):

It emerges from ITS art. 11.6.3.b [inrng: WADA’s International Testing Standards] that the athlete must be informed and be consulted concerning any violation of the whereabouts rules no later than 14 days after the violation in question occurred. This was not done in time after UCI’s attempt to perform an anti-doping test on 28 April 2011, with notification and consultation only being given on 14 July 2011. Because UCI did not meet the deadline in ITS art. 11.6.3.b, the third violation of the whereabouts rules on 28 April 2011 cannot result in sanctions in the form of a ban or disqualification

But the CAS rejected the Danish version saying that whilst the paperwork was late Rasmussen still missed a test and, rightly in my view, this counts.

Hypothetical example
The UCI’s ability to issue notifications so late is not a good thing. Imagine the case of a determined doper who deliberately takes a banned substance and when the controllers knock on the door he hides to avoid being tested. It’s not far-fetched, the Balco case showed Victor Conte was advising this to his athletes. If this happens three times under the WADA rules the athlete would be suspended within a few days of the third no-show. But in cycling the rider could have carried on for months, perhaps winning big races, before they are stopped, suspended and eventually banned. This cannot be right, especially since there’s no reason to wait months to notify a rider of a no-show, there’s little to debate if testers record a no-show.

And if this sounds bad enough, imagine if the rider in question was a big name? Even if the genuine reason was sloppy admin any delay in sending the paperwork could be painted as the UCI protecting a big name, allowing him to win a few more races before regrettably swinging into action.

The Lessons
Whilst the debate fell on whether the third mistake and the timing of notifications, all this could have been avoided if Rasmussen had logged on to update his quarterly address. Pour encourager les autres is French for “to encourage the others” and a line from Voltaire’s Candide. After the naval battle of Minorca between France and Britain in 1756, Voltaire describes the British practice of shooting naval officers if they fail in battle, not so much to punish them for mistakes but to send a signal to the others not to let down His Majesty. A curious form of motivation but Rasmussen’s case has to send a signal to every rider that updating ADAMS is part of the job. Many riders find filling in their whereabouts one of the most frustrating parts of the job. Some Belgian athletes are even locked in a legal dispute claiming it violates their privacy rights. But for me it’s part of the job, just as most workers have to show up for work or get fired. It’s no different from punching a card at the factory gate or filling in a timesheet in the office.

But on the other hand if riders are expected to account for their movement every day then they have a right to expect matching rigour from the authorities who run this demanding system. When riders risk suspension and big career damage if they mess up the admin then seeing the UCI sit around for months without giving notice is bound to frustrate. The good news here is that WADA has told the UCI to quickly amend its anti-doping rules to ensure they match the international standards and we can expect a new version in due course.

Alex Rasmussen made three whereabouts failures and duly gets a ban. He is sacked from Garmin-Sharp and his hopes of riding the Olympics look bleak, no matter what 11th hour appeals his lawyer can try. It’s a high price to pay for what appears to be serial disorganisation rather than anything more sinister.

The UCI will now harmonise its rules with WADA’s standards but even under its current system legitimate questions can be asked why it took so long to stop Rasmussen. For its own good this has to be cleared up and hopefully the UCI can review its procedures hear to ensure prompt action is always taken.

There are wider issues. Other sports need to check the rules to make sure they comply properly. The verdict strengthens the anti-doping movement but it will leave many innocent athletes – not just cyclists – frustrated and worried that there governing body holds rightly applies the rules to them but doesn’t have to act with the same rigour when it comes to its own official paperwork.

31 thoughts on “Rasmussen Banned… And Lessons To Learn”

  1. I totally agree with the need to be available for testing and sanctions for failing, but how can he have failed an out-of-competition control if he was competing? Or does the Berlin Six Day race not have doping controls, and is therefore considered to be out-of-competition?

    “On 1February 2010 officers of the Danish National Anti-Doping Organisation (ADD) unsuccessfully tried to locate Rasmussen for an out-of-competition doping control at the place he had indicated on ADAMS for that day: instead of being in Denmark, he was in Germany competing in the Berlin Six Day race.”

    • It’s not so much failing the test as failing the admin of being where he said he would be. You could spend all day at WADA HQ in full sight of the agency’s top staff… but if you are not where you said you would be on the ADAMS system it’s still a “no show”.

    • yeah im pretty sure i remember reading somewhere that he got tested while at the berlin 6 day as well, but the no-show is still a no show

      • I have read the same in Danish media –
        Several comments suggest the same – a good lad – but not very organised –
        I agree with the general assumption the UCI need to get their act together –
        Rasmussen made his 3 mistakes period – if the UCI where being pro – the discussion would have ended last autumn.
        I think Rasmussen made a mistake by not informing his team management – I bellieve bit at HTC & Garmin— a shame he misses the Olympics – but a good lessons for new young riders…

  2. Inrng, Can you just help my mind/personal clarification here.

    If a rider changes his plans after the deadline, but already has an entry and therefore edits, is this allowed? If not to know what you may be doing in 3 months is hard. A rider may be asked to go a race, or have a family matter that changes the plans.

    I agree the information should be kept up to date, as ‘this is their job as a professional’ – but the way I have read it is that once past the deadline you can’t change and therefore you could be disadvantaged?

  3. @Brett You can update your whereabouts either 24 or 48 before any time stated in ADAMS. You can even do it by SMS, although numerous athletes complain about the technology falling over fairly frequently.

  4. You need to submit your 3 months of whereabouts information by the deadline but can edit them as things change. It is a pretty easy system to use and really there is no excuse as a professional athlete to fail to keep it up to date.

  5. One would think that WADA’s rules would have precedence over any international governing body’s (like the UCI) practices, since they ultimately have authority on the manner, and it is up to the sport governing bodies to monitor testing results and impose sanctions.

    It seems like the CAS ruling was made on a matter of fact (I don’t think anyone disputed the missed tests or missed filing deadlines) rather than a matter of law/regulations (proper notification). In the US under AAA arbitration, appeals can be made over the misapplication of law; it is one of the few instances where an arbitration decision has any chance of being overturned.

    One may not like parties being acquitted over “technicalities”, but this is a premise of a fair system of jurisprudence. If left standing, I think the CAS decision here sets a dangerous precedent, which creates an imbalance of rights and responsibilities between the regulators and the regulated.

    INRNG, you cite that in the 3rd missed test, UCI officials failed to locate Rasmussen based upon his ADAMS entry; wouldn’t it have been the Spanish Anti Doping Agency or other WADA affiliate? I wasn’t aware that the UCI conducted its own tests.

  6. This article reminds me of the Floyd Landis interview on nyvelocty. He said when he was competing, he owned a motorcycle. He intended to use it if he a tester came to the door when he suspected he’d fail an out of competition test. His plan was to go out the back door and leave his building through the parking garage with a helmet concealing his face. That way, he’d be a no show for the test and not fail it.

  7. As I first read this I found it incredibly frustrating but then my mind changed totally. It’s very simple you need to account for where you are going to be so you put your schedule in and then change it regularly depending on what racing and training you will be doing. Like many other “workers” you have to account for where you are and what you do. I don’t know how much training and support riders get around personal administration but I’m sure most have ipads etc and spend time in airports, hotels etc so no excuse. Either log in at the start of the day or the end of the day and make sure your entries are correct.

  8. Opening a Twitter account (@AlexRazi) on April 2nd 2011 and managing to tweet 201 times, uploading images, videos etc. from all over Europe but failing to “run his office” is pretty stupid and immature.

    That said I believe Rasmussen and others have learned the lesson and will work it out in the future, but the Whereabout system seriously need a visit to the doctor!

  9. INRNG – Sorry for being anal – but it wasnt a case that naval officers were executed, but one, Admiral John Byng, in charge at the Battle of Minorca, was exceuted following a courts martial for failing to do his utmost in pursuing the enemy and relieving the garrison at Minorca, thereby contravening the Articles of War.

    • Not to make this a historical geek out, but actually Lt. Baker Phillips was the first notable officer (albeit a junior officer) to be executed under the Articles of War dictate that one must act to the utmost. I believe there were others who were executed as well, but it was Lt. Philips execution that sparked the outrage that led to the Articles of War being amended to apply to all officers, which ended with the execution of Adm. John Byng.

  10. It seems rather harsh that Rasmussen gets punished by suspension for his slack organisation skills, but the UCI get away with theirs. It’s starting to look like the UCI are as much of the doping problem in cycling as the dopers themselves.

      • Too Easy.

        The WADA Code at 3.2.2 (incorporated in full in the rules of Anti Doping Denmark also 3.2.2 and UCI in Part 14, rule 25) specifically provides an overriding rule for where there have been failures to follow the International Standards to the absolute letter – and allows such a deviation to be passed over providing it doesnt change any material fact relating to the doping offence.

        The UCI taking a few extra weeks to send a letter didnt alter the fact Rasmussen mucked up his whereabouts and there was a missed test because of it. Regretable maybe, inefficient more than probably, but not overly material or poisonous to the substantive case. And the ban dates were altered into account for the delay having occurred.

        This overriding regulation wasnt even considered by the Danish tribunal, and was cited as one of several reasons their decision was incorrect by CAS

        So possibly more accurate to say the the delay in arriving at a definitive decision and the whole sorry saga was blatant homerism by the Danish tribunal.

  11. Sorry to trivialise the issue but it looks like they’ve just broken the news to him in that photo.. His body language is prefect for the piece!

  12. Meanwhile the other Rasmussen was supposedly seen by some journalist in Italy when he said he was in Mexico….and he was banned for…ever? I’m all for going after the dopers, but if there’s one guy in all this who was hard done by it’s Rasmussen.

    As for this Rasmussen, it has to be a 2 year ban. Anything less is simply not a deterrant. And there HAS to be a deterrent

  13. You’d think with two violations and a propensity for carelessness, his team would have assigned somebody to track his whereabouts and help him report. They put time and money in this guy’s training, so why put that investment at risk?

  14. As a side light to this issue, why bother starting doping disciplinary cases at the National Cycling organization level? It seems that if the National organization clears the rider, or gives him a punishment less than the UCI deems necessary, the case is appealed by the UCI to the CAS adding months, or years, to the final outcome of the issue. This case went on far too long and it was a quick decision compared to the Contador case. Perhaps its time in the best interest of all involved to streamline and simplify the process and begin, and end, at the CAS.

  15. Local xc skier was skiing 30km from her “whereabouts” house in mountains when inspector has showed up. It was lucky that she has had reception and that she made it back to control in time…

  16. It’s almost comical how everybody is up in arms over this and wanting to go after dopers, etc. But what about the NFL, European Football and Every Other Sport on the planet???

  17. Just give them all Spot trackers. 🙂

    More seriously, I’m a bit concerned about his second offence. Maybe the ‘deadline’ for the quarter should be 2 weeks before it starts, so failure to file for the quarter by the deadline means the athlete gets a reminder and files before it starts.

    Then again, maybe he should just be more organised.

  18. “Meanwhile the other Rasmussen was supposedly seen by some journalist in Italy when he said he was in Mexico….and he was banned for…ever?”

    No – 2 years. Ban expired in 2009, but it appears none of the top division teams were desperately keen to sign him…


  19. So Rasmussen had three violations and was punished. Fine; that’s the rules I guess. But I do feel sorry for him given that nobody thinks he had some illicit purpose in mind. And there is also the notification issue.

    One thing that does bother me a bit is the argument that he had to be punished as a deterrent. Really? You don’t think if he narrowly escaped getting a ban because of administrative errors (that is, a technicality) that in itself would be a deterrent? As if had the CAS ruled in his favor, others would be saying “oh yeah, the whereabouts system is a joke; you don’t really need to update things.” No, nobody would say that; the serious threat of a ban and extended litigation is more than enough to stop people.

  20. Have WADA listed the UCI as “Non Compliant” with their code? If they did perhaps the UCI would amend their rules a bit quicker than “in due course”.
    The excess delay doesn’t excuse Rasmussen for failing to notify, but could hamper the resolution of any disputes as to whereabouts in other cases.

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