When it’s first announced that a player has come up with a positive doping test, some of the subsequent defenses can raise a few eyebrows.
Notably, we all remember the Sara Errani tortellini defense, along with the “Mom went to buy me the supplement and didn’t know” defense.
But in the case of world No. 1 doubles player Robert Farah of Colombia, the process worked in his favour after a comprehensive (and probably quite expensive) defense at his hearing.
On Monday, the ITF handed down a decision that confirmed Farah committed a doping violation.
However, it also determined that there is “no period of ineligibility”.
Farah, who had to pull out of the Adelaide tournament when he was already on site and then the Australian Open, can begin competing immediately.
From our information, Farah and his partner and countryman Juan Sebastian Cabal had not entered any of the upcoming tournaments. But obviously they can sign in on site and get into anything they want.
The deadline for Dubai is today.
(The decision is subject to an appeal by wither WADA or the Colombian anti-doping agency to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. One suspects the latter will not avail itself of this option).
Tested out of competition
Farah’s positive test came during an out-of-competition test on Oct. 17, when he was at his mother’s home in Cali.
Boldenone, and a metabolite of boldenone (a prohibited steroid) came up in his urine sample.
The rules mandate a four-year suspension for a first offense, if the taking of the substance that led to the positive test was found to be intentional.
Previous case history at the CAS has indicated that the bar for proving that the positive test came from contaminated meat (as was the defense here) is “more likely than not” – i.e., a 51 per cent that this is the case.
Farah contends that the positive test came from meat he ate the night before the test, which he says must have contained “residue of boldenone injected into the cow as a growth promoter prior to slaughter.”
To back that up, he submitted the results of urine samples taken on Oct. 2 and Oct. 7 (in Shanghai), neither of which came up positive.
He also submitted travel itineraries, photos etc to show he and his fiancée ate a home-cooked meal at mom’s that night.
Dinner at mom’s
Mom testified she shopped for about a kilo of beef (sirloin) two days before, and served it that night.
The store manager confirmed that batch of meat came from the “Sinú meat processing plant in northern Colombia,” which processes meat from some 15 cattle ranches in the area.
A senior official from the Colombian agricultural department made a sworn statement that the use of boldenone is legal in Colombia, and that “some livestock farms in some of the regions (in which the 15 Cattle Ranches are located) have used boldenone in their cattle to increase their meat mass.”
The ITF conducted its own review, and did have documentation that the case being made by Farah and the numerous people offering testimonials on his behalf did have contradicting evidence to balance it out.
But Professor Christiane Ayotte, director of the Montreal WADA lab that does much of the testing, said that the negative tests so close in time before the positive one do indicate that it was impossible for Farah to have injected the steroid, as the traces found in his urine just 10 days later would have been much higher.
A history of negative tests
Farah produced all the information requested by the panel, including the fact that he was tested 10 times between March and September 2019 (and boldenone was never found – so it wouldn’t have come from any of the supplements he was taking).
After all that, the panel decided that Farah met the 51 per cent balance of probability that the positive test arose from the sirloin he ate at his mom’s house the night before.
They also accepted Farah’s contention that he wasn’t aware of the widespread issues with Colombian meat and the danger of a positive dope test (even though a number of athletes have been affected by it). The fact that he’s on the road much of the year made that contention believable, they concluded.
So … the “unintentional” aspect of the positive doping test drops that four-year suspension down to a base of two years.
From two years down to zero
That two-year period can be eliminated completely if “the Player or other Person establishing that he/she did not know or suspect, and could not reasonably have known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost caution, that he/she had Used or been administered the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method or otherwise violated an anti-doping rule.”
WADA itself has never issued a warning concerning tainted meat in Colombia.
It didn’t seem to mention, or take into account the plight of Farah’s countryman, former world champion cyclist Fabián Puerta. Puerta tested positive for the same substance in 2018, and made the same argument. But as far as we can – as of yet – he has not been exonerated.
But in this case, Farah can get back on the circuit.
And the whole affair won’t count as a “previous doping violation” if ever he found himself in this situation again.