Cronin – rugby

This week, Munster prop James Cronin received a one month ban for an anti-doping violation.  He was given the wrong medication by his pharmacy. So, he ingested a banned substance, when he thought he was ingesting a medically prescribed one.

One month is low – but it’s still a black mark on his record.

Could he have received a lower ban ?

It all comes down to degree of fault.

Santos – Swimmer:

Take the Brazilian Olympic swimmer, Gabriel Da Silva Santos.

In May 2019, Santos tested positive for a banned anabolic agent. This is a more potent substance than Cronin ingested. 

The world swimming authority (FINA) banned him for one year meaning he could not compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Santos ingested the substance through sharing a bathroom towel with a family member. That family member had a medical prescription for the banned substance.  He produced evidence of this. FINA accepted this explanation, but still imposed a 1 year ban.

Santos appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  CAS agreed that the doping violation was non-intentional and arose from cross-contamination through the towel, and unanimously ruled that Santos bore “no fault or negligence” for the failed dope test.

They eliminated his 1 year ban. In their view, he could not have exercised any more “care” in the circumstances. In other words, he could not be faulted.

Johaug – Skiier

In 2016, Johaug (an Olympic champion skier) tested positive for the same anabolic agent as Santos.  She had used it to treat cracked lips, having been advised by her team doctor that it was safe to use.

The lib balm’s label carried a clear red doping warning.

Johaug received an 18-month ban, causing her to miss the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Sharapova – Tennis

Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance, meldonium, at the 2016 Australian Open. Meldonium had been banned by WADA on 1st January 2016.

CAS accepted that Sharapova’s “Fault” was minimal but returned to the seminal point that the athlete is ultimately responsible for what they ingest.  Even if Sharapova was acting on her doctor’s advice, there was nothing preventing her checking the label of all products she used to ensure she did not commit a doping violation.

CAS accepted that Sharapova had been using the meldonium for over 10 years before it was banned.

She was banned for 15 months.

 “Utmost Care”

The key here is WADA’s rule that athletes are entirely responsible for what they ingest.  They must exercise “utmost care”. They cannot point the finger. They cannot say medical professionals told them it was ok.

Cronin, Johaug and Sharapova could all be “faulted” for not reading the labels of their products. They were banned. Santos could not be faulted.   

You cannot rely on anybody but yourself.