Sport Ireland defends handling of Colvert case

Sport Ireland has defended its handling of Steven Colvert’s doping case in the wake of a claim by one of the world’s leading anti-doping experts that the Irish sprinter was wrongfully convicted.

Sport Ireland defends handling of Colvert case

Colvert was banned from the sport for two years in July 2015 after testing positive for recombinant erythropoietin (r-EPO) the previous year, but since then, several international scientists have spoken out against the finding, arguing his case should have been dropped due to inconsistencies in test data from the Cologne lab which analysed his sample.

In a documentary released last week, anti-doping scientist Don Catlin examined the data from Colvert’s case and said his sample appeared negative, contradicting the view of those at the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] labs in Cologne and Seibersdorf, who both deemed it positive for synthetic EPO.

Catlin is one of the most respected figures in anti-doping, having created some of the most sophisticated methods used to detect various drugs, including EPO.

“In general they’re a good lab, but this is not the first time I’ve seen problems with a Cologne sample,” said Catlin. “I could show you 20 cases like this.”

Yesterday afternoon, Dr Una May, the head of Sport Ireland’s anti- doping unit, stood over their handling of the case. “It was followed through very, very rigorously with a number of scientists involved in the case and we’re very satisfied that there was a case to answer,” she said. “We’re confident in the scientists

involved.”

Both Dr May and Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy said they had not yet viewed the 13-minute documentary and, when asked whether they were concerned about someone of Catlin’s stature questioning the conviction, May said: “Scientists are entitled to their opinions and there will always be conflicting opinions, but we’re confident, in that we had scientists from different labs who supported the fact that there was a case to answer.”

Meanwhile, Sport Ireland continues to await a decision in the case of Michael O’Reilly, a year-and-a-half after the Irish boxer tested positive ahead of the Rio Olympics. Dr May admitted that the drawn-out procedure was a source of frustration for Sport Ireland.

“We’re watching the cases drag out longer and longer and, since 2015 [when WADA increased the maximum penalty for a first offence], it became much more complex. It has led to longer and longer times for decisions to come out.

"We’re not particularly happy about that, but because it’s four years, people are fighting a lot harder on it and there’s a lot more requirements being made.”

Treacy, meanwhile, expressed his dismay at the International Olympic Committee’s [IOC] handling of Russia’s state-sponsored doping with just a week to go to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In December, the IOC had issued a blanket ban on Russia from the Winter Olympics as punishment for the scale and manner with which it corrupted the previous Games in Sochi, but since then it has allowed as many as 169 Russians to compete in Pyeongchang as neutral athletes. To Treacy, the latter decision proves that the ban was little more than an attempt to save face by the IOC.

“I was certainly naive to welcome the decision in December, because it wasn’t a decision at all, it was just a name change,” he said. “There should have been some punishment, and to me it would appear there is one rule for one country and another rule for the smaller country.”

Treacy called on the IOC to funnel far more of its funds into anti-doping to avoid the Olympic movement losing what remains of its credibility.

“Who’s going to watch the Olympics if they can’t believe the integrity of what they’re watching? WADA certainly needs to be resourced properly. The IOC make billions and they put some money into WADA, but it’s minute. The IOC should be investing a lot more.”

Treacy was speaking at the announcement of Sport Ireland’s national governing body and high- performance funding for 2018, which will see €20.7m invested in various sports.

That was in line with last year’s figure, something Brendan Griffin, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, deemed appropriate. “At least, we’re not cutting budgets anymore, which is positive,” he said.

“It is disappointing we weren’t able to increase it, but at the same time, we’re still providing €50m to Sport Ireland, which is a substantial amount.”

While Treacy is hopeful of an increase next year as the build-up begins to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, he said Sport Ireland was thankful for the support. “We’re extremely grateful for the funding that we’ve got. It’s the lifeblood of sport.”

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