Q&A - Positive result may not signal ‘game over’ for athlete

A positive doping test, or more properly an ‘adverse analytical finding in relation to a prohibited substance’ is not ‘game over’ straightaway for an athlete unless they choose to accept that it is.

The Irish Sports Council’s 52-page Anti-Doping Rules handbook, itself derived from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 182-page tome, shows there can be a lengthy and complex process to follow.

Q. So what are the options for an athlete after a positive test?

A. Admission of the violation and acceptance of the consequences; admission of the violation but with a request for a hearing to present mitigating factors such as inadvertent ingestion of the prohibited substance; denial of the violation and a request for a hearing to make that case; or lastly, Plan B.

Q. What’s Plan B?

A. Every urine sample supplied by an athlete is split into two sample bottles in the presence of the athlete immediately after it is provided, and the bottles are marked Sample A and Sample B. If the athlete does not accept the finding of a test on Sample A, they can request that Sample B be analysed.

Q. How soon does that happen?

A. The request must be made “promptly” and, if the athlete wants to attend the opening and analysis of Sample B or to have an independent witness attend on their behalf, a place, time and date must be agreed within 10 days of the original notification to the athlete of the first positive test. Given that the sample in Michael O’Reilly’s case was provided to Sport Ireland before his departure for Rio, that means either he or Sample B will have to travel for the analysis.

Q. What happens when the results of Sample B are known?

A. If they do not confirm the results of Sample A, the entire test is considered negative and the athlete is immediately freed from any suspension and any other restrictions and no disciplinary action will follow. If analysis of Sample B confirms the results from Sample A, then an Irish Sport Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be convened to formally adjudicate on whether there has been a violation of the anti-doping rules and if so, what sanctions should be imposed.

Q. Who are the panel and what are their powers?

A. There are around 25 solicitors, barristers, doctors, sports administrators and athletes currently eligible for appointment to the panel.

Four will form a panel to hear any individual case. Their decision is final and binding - unless it is appealed and another panel is formed to consider the appeal.

Q. What sanctions can they impose?

A. Since the World Anti-Doping Agency tightened up rules last year, the minimum sanction for intentional use of a prohibited substance is a four-year ban.

If the athlete can prove their use was accidental or the result of negligence, the sanction is reduced and can range from a reprimand to a two-year ban.

Q. How likely is it that Sample B will contradict Sample A?

A. Highly unlikely.

Q. How likely is it that an athlete with a positive Sample B finding will get a reduced sanction?

A. Proving inadvertent or negligent doping requires “substantial proof” according to Sport Ireland.

The rules tell athletes repeatedly that “you are solely responsible for any banned substance you use, attempt to use, or is found in your system, regardless of how it got there and whether there was an intention to cheat or not”.

Q. When will we know what’s going to happen to Michael O’Reilly?

A. Formally, we won’t be told by Sport Ireland until the process, whichever is chosen, comes to a conclusion.

Although the rules state that they can disclose the identity of an athlete alleged to have committed a violation of the anti-doping rules once the athlete has been notified, Sport Ireland are saying they won’t say anything about anything until all is done and dusted.

In reality, we should know within days.

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