Team Ireland’s preparations for the Rio Olympic Games lay in tatters tonight as 22-year-old Portlaoise native Michael O'Reilly has been suspended having tested positive for a banned substance, writes Daniel McConnell.
O’Reilly was tested before leaving for Rio by the Sport Ireland Anti-Doping Agency and returned “an adverse analytical finding in an A-sample”.
Sources tonight said they expected a conclusion on the matter within the “next 24-48 hours” as Irish Olympic bosses are keen to minimise the fall-out of the controversy.
However, there was widespread shock and anger after the story was revealed exclusively by the Irish Examiner online this afternoon, as the draw for the boxing was taking place in Rio.
“This is a huge embarrassment, devastating for the team of boxers which is a really tight group,” said one Team Ireland member tonight from Rio.
In the draw, O’Reilly was one of five boxers given a bye in the first round but his participation in the games now hangs in the balance.
The positive sample relates to a test taken by Sport Ireland’s anti-doping agency before the team departed for Brazil.
“The athlete has been provisionally suspended from competition and can take part in no sports activity, including training, in accordance with the WADA Code,” an Olympic Council of Ireland statement said.
O’Reilly will now decide whether to accept a sanction for a doping violation, to request that a B-sample be tested, or to appeal the provisional suspension.
“The athlete’s identity will remain confidential unless the sanction is accepted or the B-sample is tested and also returns an adverse analytical finding,” the OCI said despite his name emerging.
Several coaches and members of the boxing team were unaware of the news when it broke on the Irish Examiner website. Boxer Paddy Barnes took to Twitter where he called for this newspaper to reveal the name of the boxer involved, which happened an hour later.
Team Ireland has 8 boxers in total competing in the Olympics and Boxing has been the most successful event for the Irish in recent games.
Sport Ireland said it is precluded from making any comment on any anti-doping matters because of the quasi-judicial nature of how the system is managed.
It has never commented on any matters of this nature and would not be doing so in this instance, a spokesman told the Irish Examiner.
The Irish Athletic Boxing Association confirmed the positive test sample.
“The IABA has always maintained a zero tolerance approach to doping and Irish Boxing has been one of the most widely tested sports by the National Anti-Doping Programme over the last number of years,” it said in a statement.
A spokesman for Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross said he had no comment on the controversy.
Ironically, as the controversy broke, both Mr Ross and Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan added their support for the global fight against doping in sport.
They said: “We look forward to supporting not just the athletes representing Ireland, but all of the clean athletes and competitors in Rio. We sincerely hope they will be performing in a doping free environment”.
O’Reilly came to prominence last summer when, at the inaugural European Games in Baku, he won the gold medal.
The shock news that he had failed a dope test will be of some embarrassment to his coach, Pat Ryan who is the current President of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. Born in Clonmel in March, 1993 O'Reilly lives in Portlaoise where he learned his boxing with the local club.
Tonight, a defiant O'Reilly took to social media to insist he will box on August 12 in the last 16 of the competition.
He tweeted: "Box on the 12th in the last 16 against the winner of Mexico or Iraq.....".
Full IABA Statement
A statement from the IABA said: “The Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) has been notified by Sport Ireland today of an alleged violation of the Irish Anti-doping Rules committed by one of the boxers in our High Performance Unit.
"In following the strict procedures applying to an adverse analytical finding, the athlete in question has been informed and is provisionally suspended. The boxer can request to have a “B” sample tested but cannot participate in any competition or activity prior to the completion of an investigation under Article 8 of the Irish Anti-doping Rules.
"The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has always maintained a zero tolerance approach to doping and Irish Boxing has been one of the most widely tested sports by the National Anti-Doping Programme over the last number of years.
"IABA’s policy is that doping is contrary to the spirit of sport and every member of the association has a duty to ensure that the sport is free of doping. We ensure our boxers are available for testing in and out of competition.
"The Irish Athletic Boxing Association will not be in a position to comment further until all elements of due process associated with the anti-doping programme are completed in this case.”
Irish Olympic doping scandals
Ireland’s boxing team has been thrown into crisis as O’Reilly’s positive test emerges on eve of 2016 Games in Rio. He has been suspended pending an appeal.
Martin Fagan, a marathon runner, was banned for two years in 2012 after he failed doping test.
Battles against depression, injury and money troubles combined and led him to take the performance enhancer EPO.
Cian O'Connor burst into the national conscience as the only Irish medalist at the 2004 Summer Olympics. However, it later emerged that his horse Waterford Crystal tested positive for a prohibited substance. On foot of the sample, O’Connor was stripped of his medal by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) and was banned for three months. However, FEI found that he did not deliberately attempt to affect the performance of the horse.
At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, showjumper Denis Lynch withdrew from the showjumping final just hours before it began after his horse Lantinus tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin. Lynch claimed the substance was present in a cream he had put on the horse called Equiblock, which is similar to 'deep heat' used on humans. In October 2008 an FEI tribunal suspended Lynch for three months.
Michelle Smith de Bruin:
Two years after winning three gold medals and a bronze in 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Michelle Smith’s career lay in ruins. She always denied taking performance-enhancing drugs, Smith was later found guilty of interfering with the sample.