Ostarine, Contamination and a Question For USADA

Today USADA announced a 180 degree turn on a doping suspension they handed out in 2017.

Amanda Ribas tested positive for ostarine following an out-of-competition urine test conducted on June 7, 2017.  USADA handed her a 2 year suspension.  Ribas “accepted” this sanction.  As the suspension neared completion USADA announced that ‘time served is punishment enough because they now believe the ostarine was likely from product contamination.  On a similar note 4 other athletes were handed  a reduced suspension for Ostarine on the same basis in recent weeks.

There is nothing controversial about having reduced penalties tied to the degree of an athletes fault.  That is a good thing.  What is noteworthy about these recent reduced suspensions, however, is that they don’t seem to square well with the actual wording in the UFC/USADA custom made anti-doping-policy (the “ADP”).  Lack of clarity of when athletes accused of doping can expect leniency is not desirable.

The ADP has a specific section dealing with reduced sanctions for product contamination.  Specifically section 10.5.1.2 of the ADP reads as follows:

10.5.1.2 Contaminated Products
In cases where the Athlete or other Person can establish
that the detected Prohibited Substance came from a
Contaminated Product, then the period of Ineligibility
shall be, at a minimum, a reprimand and no period of
Ineligibility, and at a maximum, the period of Ineligibility
set forth in Article 10.2, depending on the Athlete’s or
other Person’s degree of Fault.

The phrase “contaminated product” is defined as well and means “A product that contains a Prohibited Substance that
is not disclosed on the product label or in information available in a reasonable
Internet search.”

When a legal document contains a defined phrase the technical reading of the document requires insertion of the full definition for the phrase.  Doing this with the contaminated product definitions shapes the section as follows:

In cases where the Athlete or other Person can establish
that the detected Prohibited Substance came from a product that contains a Prohibited Substance that
is not disclosed on the product label or in information available in a reasonable
Internet search,
 then the period of Ineligibility
shall be, at a minimum, a reprimand and no period of
Ineligibility, and at a maximum, the period of Ineligibility
set forth in Article 10.2, depending on the Athlete’s or
other Person’s degree of Fault.

On the plain reading of this section the onus is on an athlete to prove contamination.  They must do so by pointing to a specific contaminated product which fails to list the prohibited substance.  At least that’s what USADA told Tom Lawlor who tested positive for Ostarine in 2016.  Lawlor was unable to point to any specific contaminated product and was hit with a full two year suspension.

Why am I pointing this out?  Because Ribas, Mendes, Vettori, O’Malley and Montano were also not able to prove a source of contamination but they were granted leniency under the contaminated product provision.

I reached out to USADA asking if they have changed the requirements of s. 10.5.1.2 of the ADP or if they are applying the section differently.  They say there is no change of policy.  Specifically USADA’s Communications Director Adam Woullard advised as follows:

There has been no specific change to the UFC Anti-Doping Policy to allow us to reduce Ribas’ sanction. The current policy allows USADA to reduce sanctions based on a number of factors. An effective anti-doping program considers the available science and information for each athlete and acts accordingly.”

It is hard to see how this is not a change of policy as USADA themselves note in the Rivas press release that “As Ribas was unable to identify the source of her positive test, and taking into consideration the likelihood that her positive test was the result of an ostarine contaminated dietary supplement product, USADA believes it is fair to allow Ribas to return to competition after serving the majority of her two-year sanction

It appears USADA is prepared to effectively take ‘judicial notice’ that products can be contaminated with Ostarine and these cases set the precedent that reduced sanctions can be handed out even if an athlete cannot discharge their burden under s. 10.5.1.2.

Ostarine is not the only prohibited substance that has been linked to product contamination.   The question is will USADA extend the same courtesy to other athletes who test positive for substances other than Ostarine who maintain no wrongdoing but cannot point to a specific contaminated product?  Why or why not?

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