Relief for Turnbull in drug case

GARETH TURNBULL won’t be out of pocket as a result of the lengthy battle to clear his name after testing positive for a banned substance in 2005, the Irish Sports Council confirmed yesterday.

The case was riddled with controversy and the ISC would appear to have softened its stance that forced Turnbull to the highest level to prove his innocence.

The athlete represented Ireland at a number of major track championships and was a bronze medallist at the European junior cross-country championships some years ago. But his career was put on hold and he was left facing a ban from the sport when he was found to have an abnormally high level of testosterone in a urine sample taken in September, 2005.

Six months after the test was taken he was given just days to explain himself but the process to clear his name was not completed until late last year.

“The Disciplinary Panel found that Gareth Turnbull had a case to answer and he has done that,” John Treacy, the ISC chief executive said yesterday at the publishing of the annual Anti-Doping Report for 2006 in Dublin.

He revealed that they had met with the Turnbull family and it would appear that everyone is happy with the outcome.

Under current rules it would not have been possible to pay the athlete’s expenses in such a case but those rules are about to be changed.

“In the interest of fairness we felt that rule changes should be made to allow costs in such a case,” John Treacy said.

Dr Brendan Buckley, Chairperson of the Anti-Doping Committee, said that changes to the rules regarding costs for athletes who successfully resist an assertion of doping would be made in consultation with the National Governing Bodies.

He said that, subject to the rules being changed, the ISC will allow Turnbull the costs incurred in the case on the basis equity and natural justice.

“The changes will be made in consultation with the national governing bodies to avoid knock-on effects that might interfere with their own disciplinary process,” he said.

“I don’t know how long those consultations will take so, from that point of view, I can’t say when the rule changes are likely to come into affect but when we have something like this that needs attention the quicker we fix it the better.”

Dr Buckley said the Gareth Turnbull case had highlighted the need for more scientific research on the affect alcohol has on testosterone levels.

“It is something that must be addressed on a worldwide basis,” he said. “And testosterone is not the only substance that has proved to be problematic.”

In what was a record year of testing for the Irish Sports Council, 1,049 tests were carried out with just two findings that resulted in sanction — kick-boxer Carla Patton, based in Derry and jockey Warren O’Connor.

The total comprises 892 tests under the National Programme and 157 under the User Pays programme. There were also 90 alcohol tests.

Athletics was the most tested with 167 tests carried out — 145 of which were out of competition — while cycling was subjected to 103 tests.

In contrast, GAA, which has a much bigger participation level than athletics or cycling, had only 56 tests, with just 20 out of competition.

Dr Una May, Programme Manager, said they had actually increased their testing in GAA on previous years.

In athletics and cycling, many would be tested under the carding scheme and the frequency of testing would be determined by their level, she said.

She added they were working on improving out of competition testing in GAA where testing is only carried out within a training environment.

“This year we don’t anticipate making big increases because of the move to in-house testing,” she said. “But in the future, team sports in general and GAA in particular is an area where we want to increase testing.

Relationships with the GAA have improved, they have a better understanding and there is better co-operation as regards access. However she added that football gets higher priority than hurling.

“In rugby we have an agreement whereby we focus on the out of competition testing and they focus on the competition side of it.

“The deterrent is in the unpredictability of it and the fact that we can appear anywhere, anytime.”

Minister for Sport, John O’Donoghue, said the ultimate aim of the Anti-Doping Programme was to ensure that there was no use of drugs in sport in Ireland.

“The Council operates an excellent anti-doping programme that is recognised internationally as an outstanding model of its type,” he said.

Last year the Council decided to break with International Drug Testing Management (IDTM) and bring the testing function entirely in-house.

“This is in keeping with best international practice and the transition has taken place smoothly and without disruption to the programme,” he said.

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