Coach Handed Lifetime Penalty

In the first case review under the Canadian Policy on Penalties for Doping in Sport, heard last November, the Doping Control Review Panel found that a doping-related infraction had occurred and imposed a life-time penalty on Cecil Russell, the coach involved.

In all sports and in any role within a sport, doping-related infractions carry a lifetime ban. This is an extremely onerous penalty, particularly for a first-time infraction.

While not common, when doping-related infractions occur, they often involve coaches. Knowing what a doping-related infraction is, and how far the policy can potentially reach, is crucial.

The Russell case is a good example of the reach of the policy and its dire consequences.

In 1997, Russell applied for membership in two provincial sport associations. Concern was raised by the associations because several years before, Russell had been convicted of conspiracy to import steroids which were subsequently distributed through a gym owned by his brother. Although Russell was not involved with any sport association or affiliate at the time of his conviction, the fact that he was seeking membership in sport associations twigged doping officials.

A doping-related infraction is defined as "infractions other than the use of banned substances or practices" and includes either the condoning of or advising on the use of banned substances or practices, securing (including importing), supplying, selling, or administering banned substances or practices, possession of such substances without valid medical reason, refusal to participate in doping control, or failing to co-operate in a doping investigation-all with the intent of violating anti-doping rules.

A case review can be initiated for five different circumstances: a doping infraction (the use of a banned substance by a person) which may involve other persons potentially associated with the infraction; an admission of either an infraction or a doping-related infraction; the request of a sport organization; information received by the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Sport (CCES); or, the catch-all "other allegations of a doping infraction come to the attention of CCES".

It is clear these circumstances are very broad; in addition, not time limit is placed upon them. Although Russell's conviction was some two years old, a request for a review was still brought forward and acted upon. Indeed, the conviction, theoretically, could have been five, even 10 years old. In Russell's case, there was clear, incontrovertible evidence of a conviction (although it was still necessary to show that the impugned activity was done with the intent of violating anti-doping rules), but the criteria are general enough that an allegation could be based on rumour or innuendo.

Such a situation would be grossly unfair and even abusive. For this reason, CCES has the discretion to ensure that only legitimate matters are reviewed. Once CCES has investigated an allegation, the Doping Control Review Panel, an internal CCES panel made up of three medical practitioners, reviews the results to determine whether there is "sufficient" information to send the matter to a final and determinative hearing - it is not clear what "sufficient" means but the provision assures another safety check to ensure that only serious and legitimate matters go forward.

Allegations that go forward from the Review Panel are then subject to a hearing before a three-person independent board. The job of the board is to review the materials put forward to the panel, listen to the evidence of the person, and then determine, on a balance of probabilities, whether or not a doping-related infraction has occurred. Balance of probability means that the board is satisfied that it is more probable than not (that is, 51 percent sure) that an infraction took place. This is in contrast to the much more onerous standard used in criminal law of beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Russell's case, the board was satisfied that he had committed a doping-related infraction. The penalty was suspension from participating in any role -- coach, participant, volunteer, or any other category -- in any activity of any national sport federation (NSF) or provincial sport organization (PSO), or any of their affiliates. In essence, Russell has been banned from organized sport in Canada for life. This most serious case is currently under appeal.

There are other examples where a case review is possible and the consequences not anticipated by those involved. As noted, a case review can be initiated as a result of an admission under oath or simply a report of an omission. There have been several cases, for example, where an athlete has admitted steroid use at the high school level, which is not subject to the Canadian Policy on Penalties for Doping in Sport. But once an athlete enters the jurisdiction of the Policy (university or college athletics or competition in a sanctioned PSO or NSF activity) were charged a first infraction and subject to a four year suspension.

Leading up to the Nagano Olympics, a number of NHL players admitted using the restricted cold medicine Sudafed -- which is substantially made up of the stimulant pseudo-ephedrine - for reasons other than medical ones. Could this have triggered a case review?

Well, certainly at least one of the criteria could be satisfied. Sudafed is a banned substance in the stimulant class, which means that it can draw anything from a warning to a full four-year penalty, if not used for medical reasons. So it is possible that the matter would at the least catch the attention of CCES. However, in the stimulant class of banned substances there is some discretion in determining an infraction, given the amount and toxicity of the substance used. Nonetheless, this scenario shows the potential reach of the policy and the importance of knowing its provisions.

Originally published: Coaches Report (1998) Vol. 4(4)

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