By Rafael Braegger, Attorney-at-Law, Pachmann Attorneys-at-Law, Zurich, Switzerland, specialising in sports law, contract law and law of associations
On 30 September 2019, maybe not so coincidentally at the height of the IAAF World Championships 2019 in Doha (27 September to 6 October 2019), the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that Alberto Salazar, former coach of British multiple Olympic Gold medallist and World Champion Mo Farah and United States 2012 Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp, was banned by a three-member panel established by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for four years for doping violations, with immediate effect.
The relevant allegations brought forward by USADA include possession, trafficking and administration of prohibited substances (infusions of L-carnitine), which are offenses under art. 2.6, art. 2.7 and art. 2.8 of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), as well as tampering and attempted tampering with the doping control process (art. 2.5 WADC).
The AAA decision was based on investigations which had gone on for four years and followed a confidential trial, which started in June 2017. Alongside Salazar, Dr. Jeffrey Brown, who had treated many of Salazar’s athletes, was equally banned for four years, although by a different AAA panel.
The IAAF immediately withdrew Salazar’s accreditation for the recently concluded World Championships in Doha.
Salazar is at the helm of the so-called “Nike Oregon Project” (NOP), a Nike-funded running training facility in Portland, Oregon, which was established in 2001, where Mo Farah had trained from 2011 to 2017 and which coincides with Mo Farah dissociating himself from Salazar. Thus, a question hangs over the future of the NOP, which must have been tainted by this doping scandal.
Like many others, Mo Farah has never tested positive for any prohibited substances in his career and has never been sanctioned on account of any anti-doping rule violation.
The allegations against Salazar, in turn, include the administration of Testosterone, a steroid which figures prominently on WADA’s prohibited list, and abuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) e.g. for asthma.
Salazar, who is a United States citizen, declared that he was shocked by the AAA panel decision and that he would appeal it.
Indeed, the present case is special insofar as it is one of the rare – yet in the recent past emerging (see also the cases involving Austrian cross-country skiers) – cases where not an athlete but rather a coach has been banned.
Just as much as athletes, coaches need to comply with the WADC. However, since it is the athletes, who are physically tested for prohibited substances, it is easier for the Anti-Doping Organizations (ADOs) to target and take out athletes.
In general, in so-called “non-analytical cases” to which coaches are usually subjected, only in circumstances where the ADOs can draw on the assistance of state authorities in the fight against doping, coaches and other staff become the subject of anti-doping operations and proceedings.
Most likely, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne is going to have to deal with Salazar’s case. So far, the CAS has not registered – or at least not communicated – an appeal by Salazar.
The present approach by USADA is in stark contrast to one of the major sports leagues in the United States, such as the National Hockey League (NHL). While the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) banned Yevgeni Kuznetsov, who is a Tampa Bay Lightning forward and national team player for Russia, for four years for use of cocaine in June 2019, the NHL – which is not part of the WADA-system – banned him for three games for “inappropriate conduct”.
The full AAA panel decisions regarding Salazar and Brown, running to 140 and 108 pages, respectively, are available at https://www.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/Salazar-AAA-Decision.pdf and https://www.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/Jeffrey-Brown-FINAL-AAA-Award.pdf.
Rafael Braegger may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’