By Tony Attwood
Proceedings against Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool by Uefa following his being found to have taken a banned subtsance were stopped and the case dismissed after Uefa stated that the drug should not have been on the banned list.
A Uefa statement read: “The independent Uefa control, ethics and disciplinary Body met in Paris and has reached a decision relating to the proceedings instigated against Liverpool player Mamadou Sakho, following the Europa League round-of-16 second-leg match between Manchester United and Liverpool (1-1), played on 17 March 2016.
Sakho’s threat to take the World Anti-Doping Agency to court is still on the table. But WADA has the right to appeal against Uefa. Indeed such an action seems likely since if WADA does not appeal against Uefa it will find it hard to avoid legal action by the player. It will also make its own position look untenable in sport. And since WADA is the authority to which everyone turns in order to stop the wholesale use of drugs, as seemingly has happened in Russia, that would be a very serious turn of events.
There is a lot of briefing in secret going on to the effect that the problem is very much WADA, and that WADA had been warned that the banning of the substance was wrong. However the people saying this are very much remaining secret, which is always a suspicious sign, when there is no obvious reason why they should be secret.
What does seem to be a problem is that there is a suggestion that the Wada labs at first said the substance was ok, but then came back and said no, it is part of a grounp of compounds which are prohibited.
Liverpool then took up the case and hired a lawyer specialising in the field to see whether higenamine, the compound at the heart of the dispute, was one that could be classified as a beta2, which would make it illegal.
However without definitive evidence Uefa said it would not extend the suspension while further investigation was ongoing. The allegation then is that although some WADA laboratories check for higenamine, not all of them do. This was then pushed out as a shock horror story – although it has always been the case, and always been known, that there are different grades of lab which test in various levels of depth. This is essential if the system is going to work efficiently. To test for everything would be impossible, just as testing every player would be. The random nature of testing is what encourages footballers to stay clean. Not knowing what lab a drug is going to is also part of the randomisation.
Ultimately though it was Uefa’s disciplinary body that announced that the evidence for higenamine being a banned substance was not valid, which casts Uefa has a higher authority on drugs matters than WADA. In this regard Uefa is now outside of the anti-drugs movement in the rest of the world.
WADA therefore looked at the matter again, and concluded, “There is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times,” and that some athletes “could not have known or suspected” meldonium would still be in their systems having taken it before it was banned. “In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”
WADA also said that the new guidance was “not an amnesty” for athletes and they must still explain to anti-doping authorities how the substance was in their body.
Of course the press, seemingly always happy to knock all regulatory bodies and question their competence, called this a climbdown, and the media and state organisations in Russia, seized upon it as a way of trying to discredit WADA and get their teams back into the Olympics.
In a statement, issued via the official news agency Tass, the Russian Sports Ministry said it “supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has showed a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook”.
But in reality WADA’s new guidance acknowledges that trace elements of meldonium can remain in the body “for a few months” if someone has been taking the drug for a prolonged period. Nothing else.
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