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Brazil Cases Cast Doubt On Drugs Regime

Jul 2, 2011  - Craig Lord

The inconsistency in anti-doping treatment throughout FINA member nations is highlighted again by the cases of the latest four Brazilian athletes, including Olympic and world champion Cesar Cielo, to return positive tests. 

Cielo, Nicholas Santos, Henrique Barbosa and Vinicius Waked, all but the latter members of Brazil's world titles squad in Shanghai later this month, tested positive for furosemide, on the banned list in part because of its property as a masking agent, at the Maria Lenk Trophy in May. Their cases have so far received only warnings though there may further investigation in Brazil and all concerned may yet go before FINA for further hearing. That must happen before the world titles begin in Shanghai on July 24 (race pool). 

The Brazilian doping control panel decided that only a warning was necessary because the swimmers had never produced a positive test before (in itself no reason at all not to impose a ban, of course) and had not intended to cheat. The panel cited FINA rule DC 10.4, which includes:

  • Where a Competitor or other Person can establish how a Specified Substance entered his or her body or came into his or her Possession and that such Specified Substance was not intended to enhance the Competitor's sport performance or mask the Use of a performance-enhancing substance, the period of Ineligibility found in DC 10.2 shall be replaced with the following: 
  • First violation: At a minimum, a reprimand and no period of Ineligibility from future Competitions, and at a maximum, two years' of Ineligibility. 
  • To justify any elimination or reduction, the Competitor or other Person must produce corroborating evidence in addition to his or her word which establishes to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel the absence of an intent to enhance sport performance or mask the Use of a performance enhancing substance. The Competitor's or other Person's degree of fault shall be the criterion considered in assessing any reduction of the period of Ineligibility. 

Cielo, Olympic 50m freestyle and world 50m and 100m freestyle champion, takes up pen as sword in his own defence by explaining on his website that furosemide can be present in normal supplements through cross-contamination. 

Cielo's statement translated from Portuguese by this author:

"I want to give my position on the ruling of a panel carried out Friday for the CBDA, in the Rio de Janeiro, regarding the presence of the substance Furosemide, found in some Brazilian team athletes who raced at the Maria Lenk Trophy in May.

All data was laid out before the panel and it was proven that the presence of the substance was caused by cross-contamination during the handling of a supplement (exceptionally, that can take happen even where sanitary vigilance standards are observed).

I have always use this supplement and previous controls have never previously presented a problem. Given the trust I have in this supplement, I think this has been an isolated case. Because of the trust placed in the product, other athletes also used the supplement.

It is a fact that we have learned from this.

During the whole of my career, I have always taken the greatest care with all types of ingested medicine. I consider myself to be an exemplary athlete in that respect. I never used any ergogenic, performance-enhancing substance.

I believe that the worth of an athlete is measured in their hard training, dedication and seriousness. I believe that all the results I have achieved in my career were built on hose pillars.

I submit to constant testing - this year, I have already been tested five times. I also submitted to a blood test in France at the Paris Open. I submit to random testing and am part of FINA's whereabouts programme that requires me to inform the authorities every time I move [from place to place]. Those are the rules of the game and I have always known that.

On April 26, four days four days before the Maria Lenk Trophy, I received a letter from USADA, the American anti-doping agency, congratulating me on the results of anti-doping tests conducted in Michigan, during the Grand Prix.

At no time was I reckless or negligent nor did I lean on ignorance. I do not use any type of medicine or supplement without checking that it is safe to use. Wherever I am in the world, I consult my doctor and my father, who is also a doctor, about the composition of any medicine or supplement before ingesting them. I am extremely careful with that and I my conscience is clear in terms of my knowing that I did nothing to deliberately enhance my performance. 

Out of respect for the trust placed in me by Brazil and the wider swimming community, I have provided this explanation. 

End of statement.

Agency reports have the pharmacy in Cielo’s local hometown of Santa Bárbara D’Oeste owning up to fouling up: the chemists say that Cielo had ordered an emergency preparation of his dietary supplement prior to travel and that in their haste they did not observe best handling practices. Many will not buy that scenario - and it is certainly one that begs more questions on the need for athletes to have supplements made up for them.

There may well be valid arguments there and it is for WADA and others to judge - but there are also two very obvious problems with the latest developments: for Brazil and then for swimming as a whole.

1. Brazil. Here is the list of swimmers that have now fallen foul of anti-doping rules in the past 18 months:

  • Diane Becker - Stanozolol (banned 2 years)
  • Daynara De Paula - Furosemide (banned six months)
  • Fabiola Molina - Methylhexaneamine (banned two months)
  • Samuel De Bona (open water) - Methylhexaneamine (banned two months) 
  • Lauren Goulart (open water) - Methylhexaneamine (slap on the wrist)
  • Cesar Cielo - Furosemide (warning)
  • Henrique Barbosa - Furosemide (warning)
  • Nicolas Santos - Furosemide (warning)
  • Vinicius Waked - Furosemide (warning)

Brazil clearly has work to do when it comes to educating its swimmers in the need to not only be clean but to follow safe and clean practices. As former USA head coach Mark Schubert noted to his squad in the wake of Jessica Hardy's ban word to the effect of "don't take supplements when you don't have to…" and if you do, only do so after thorough tests have confirmed that no banned substance could possibly be among the ingredients. Read Schubert's wise words in full here. It is an athlete's responsibility to account for anything that gets into his or her bloodstream under WADA rules.

That is 9 in all and 6 in the past year from that list above. A federation can be removed for a year in its entirety if four athletes go under within 12 months. The right of domestic federations to select their own penalties has had its day. Time for change and independence of thought and judgement.

2. Inconsistency of treatment of athletes - a serious problem for FINA

Take those slaps on the wrist above and then put them against a year-long ban recently meted out to Albert Subirats (VEN), a swimmer with a long history in the sport with no hint of positive test to his name. A clean record. Until, that is, his federation in Venezuela failed to pass on his whereabouts documentation to FINA. Did the federation get penalised? No, the athlete was rule out under the three strikes and you are out rule. 

Flip back a year and we find Rafael Munoz (ESP) having to rely on a doctor he had known for a short time to come forward and provide a diagnosis about his mental wellbeing at the time of one of three missed tests. Ruling: like the Brazilians, a warning. Munoz was free to go ahead and win a European crown last summer.    

Flip back a year and we find Frederick Bousquet (FRA) testing positive for a prohibited substance and serving two months, the sentence timed so that the swimmer could return in time for the world s/c championships. That may have been reasonable in the circumstances but it seems unreasonable to then hand down much more severe penalties to the blameless. 

Take the case of Ben Hockin, who swam for Britain and then switched to Paraguay, but the South American nation's federation failed to file the paperwork with FINA. Did the federation get told: don't bother sending any delegates to the next year of FINA events? No, Hockin got told that. The delegate from Paraguay will no doubt have continued to travel and represent during that time, even though the mistake was not the athlete's but the federation's.

And then there are these Furosemide cases in history:

  • Simona Maurino (ITA) tested positive for furosemide at the Campionato Italiano Palanuto A2 on February 13, 2000. A penalty of 8 months startring May 29, 2000 was imposed. 
  • Evgenia Ermakova (KAZ) tested positive for furosemide at the Meeting International de Natation de Monte-Carlo in Monaco on May 28, 2000. A penalty of four years was imposed. Ermakova, a very talented world-class sprinter, got four years - her career ended. The penalty she received reflected the response to the crisis of the hour: China. Attitudes have since weakened. 

Time for revision and a new resolve from FINA and WADA to meet the complexities of the hour.

Returning to Subirats, news reaches SwimNews that the swimmer's lawyer, at the hearing into the case, was told to raise his hand before speaking otherwise he would be removed from the room. Beyond being a somewhat childish protocol, such a move would remove the human right of the athlete to have legal representation and ought not to be a practice that FINA either condones or supports. 

The question is: how can an actual positive test at a competition result in a far weaker penalty (plus a season missed and the accompanying shame of it all) than an administrative failure of a federation?

The inconsistency in anti-doping treatment, some of it caused by WADA's structures, is something that now threatens to bring FINA members into disrepute and demands the attention of the international federation.