Social Drugs Findings In Sport: Doping or Misconduct

2 November 2017

Recently, Dan Evans received a one year ban from Tennis for testing positive for Cocaine. This decision throws into sharp focus the relationship between Social Drugs and the Anti-Doping Rules.

I submit that the relationship is an uneasy one. Let’s look at how the rules treat Social Drugs findings, using Cocaine as an example:

With a finding of Cocaine in an Athlete’s system, much depends on when you were tested. Cocaine is banned In-Competition only.

Cocaine is classified as a stimulant under Section 6 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list, and theoretically, it could have performance enhancing qualities.  Let’s be realistic though, Athletes who take Cocaine aren’t necessarily interested in any Sporting Applications of the drug. Poor choices on a night out appear to be the source of most findings.

How do you convince the Authorities of this? It’s all a question of timing. For example consider this extract from Article 10.2.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code:

An Anti-Doping Rule Violation resulting from an Adverse Analytical Finding for a substance which is only prohibited In-Competition shall not be considered “intentional” if the substance is not a specified substance and the Athlete can establish that the Prohibited Substance was used Out-of Competition in a context unrelated to sport performance”

If the Athlete ingests the drug on a night out a few days before an In-Competition test, and is able to provide the time of ingestion, this can be cross referenced with the quantity of Cocaine found in their system. If the Authorities are satisfied that the substance was taken in a context unrelated to Sports performance, the four year ban facing the Athlete can be automatically reduced to two, as non-intentional.

However, that is the point where the authorities cease being generous, and it’s up to the Athlete to reduce the ban further.

In Evans case, he did exactly that. He was able to convince the ITF that the finding was a result of inadvertent contamination. He had ingested Cocaine four days prior to an In-Competition test. He had stored the leftover Drug in the pocket of his washbag where it had mixed with tablets of permitted medication. He then consumed his medication prior to his test, which led to the finding. 

He instructed an expert who explained that the amount of Cocaine found in his system was very small and consistent with Evan’s explanation. Having satisfied the Authorities that the finding was Non-Intentional, Evan’s had gone on to clear the ‘No Significant Fault or Negligence’ Hurdle, reducing his ban from two years to one.

One year is where he remained however. The ITF took the view that Evans was at fault for taking the drug, and subsequently allowing the contamination to occur:

Mr Evans cannot establish that he bears No Fault or Negligence for his violation…his conduct in taking cocaine and then storing it in his washbag, in the same pocket as his medication, was a departure from the rigorous standard of utmost caution required of all players…”

A further thorn in Evan’s side is that for his contamination story to succeed, he had to admit to actually taking the drug prior to the test – and that left him unable to reduce the ban further.

This does represent a good result under the current framework, but I would argue that Social Drugs should be dealt with under general disciplinary rules rather than Anti-Doping Rules. Because cases like this shouldn’t be examples of Doping, they are examples of Misconduct.

Clearly, Evans had to face some degree of sanction for his actions. However because he was prosecuted under Anti-Doping Rules, he had to clear several difficult hurdles to defend himself and still ended up with a year’s ban.

Doping rules exist to maintain a level playing field, to protect Sport and Clean Athletes. Dan Evan’s conduct did not threaten either of these principles. He should have been dealt with from a purely disciplinary standpoint, similar to if he had fixed a match or been violent on court.

Separating Social Drugs findings from all other doping matters lends greater perspective and allows violations to be dealt with in a more proportionate and expeditious manner.

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