FINA Pursues Adverse Analytical Finding of Thorpe Doping Test

By John Lohn

MELBOURNE, Australia, March 31. FOR six days, the big story at the 12th edition of the FINA World Championships was the Herculean effort of Michael Phelps, chasing eight gold medals. But, after a story appeared the French newspaper L'Equipe, the spotlight has shifted to the possibility of a major black eye for the sport, that Australian superstar Ian Thorpe had abnormal levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone in his system from a doping test in May 2006. Testosterone and luteinizing hormone, it's key to point out, are naturally produced by the body.

FINA, the world governing body of the sport, has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to look into the doping test that was conducted by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). The test FINA wants investigated is a sample from Thorpe, who retired from the sport six months after the test. It's been reported that the sample showed an adverse analytical result, but ASADA found there wasn't enough scientific evidence to warrant moving the case forward. FINA would not confirm Thorpe by name, but did not deny it was the freestyle legend. Tests are revealed by number, not name.

When an adverse analytical result is discovered, the laboratory report is reviewed to ensure that there was no exception for the result, such as an approved use of a drug for medical purposes. According the report by L'Equipe, Thorpe's sample reflected unusually high levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone. However, ASADA determined that Thorpe had no reason to be called out. It is key to note that there is a difference between an adverse analytical finding and a positive test, as on occasion, TE levels are found to be high in an individual without the need for a case to proceed.

"The procedures that we are governed by are the procedures outlined by the (World Anti-Doping Agency) code," said Dr. Andrew Pipe, Chairman of the Doping Control and Review Board. "The WADA code allows for the review of laboratory findings and they allow the International Federation to review the findings conducted by domestic organizations, by national anti-doping organizations, national federations, etc.

"When those findings are reviewed and there is a feeling on the part of the (Doping Control and Review Board) that they may constitute an adverse analytical finding, then the WADA code provides for International Federations, in the case of international level competitors, to appeal decisions not to proceed or to appeal decisions to proceed to the court of arbitration of issues in sport, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That is what has happened in this case."

It is clear that the L'Equipe report resulted from a leak within FINA, a fact that was not denied in a press conference that featured Executive Director Cornel Marculescu, Vice President Sam Ramsamy and Dr. Pipe. If the CAS officially determines that Thorpe took banned substances, the Australian legend will suffer irreparable damage to his reputation. FINA has known about the adverse analytical finding since May and Marculescu said the appeal went to the CAS in December. Even if Thorpe is cleared, this development has been harmful.

Word from the Swimming Australia camp is that Thorpe has taken the news hard, not a surprising reaction in the least. Glenn Tasker, the Chief Executive of Swimming Australia, stood up for Thorpe, who opted for retirement instead of a run at a third Olympic Games. Tasker said he was "1,000 percent" behind the Thorpedo, a national hero in Australia. Meanwhile, FINA went out of its way to make clear that it was not singling out ASADA.

"We have cases, I tell you last year," Marculescu said. "We probably (had) four or five cases, which these things happened. But not necessary to go to CAS, because they have a legal body within the country through which the appeal has been made. And in some cases we even go to the civil court because the appeal has been presented. That depends on the case, but the procedure is the same. It is not a different procedure or anything else.

"And I have to say that we have an excellent relationship with ASADA. ASADA is working very well and we have cooperation with ASADA and there is no issue to doubt anything related with everything (that) happened and how it has been handled. Unfortunately there is a leak, we don't know how it happened that this (came) up. We are investigating because this is something which nobody likes of course."

A five-time Olympic champion who is considered – in some circles – to be the greatest freestyler in history, Thorpe's last major international competition was the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. There, Thorpe won gold in the 200 freestyle and defended his title in the 400 freestyle. He was in attendance earlier this week at the World Championships, where his 200 free world record was broken by Phelps on the second night of competition.

Before the end of the FINA press conference discussing the matter, Ramsamy defended the organization's right to proceed and look at the test, despite ASADA seeing no need to pursue it.

"Just to make a general statement," Ramsamy said. "The issue of appeals is an ongoing one and there is not a question of casting aspersions on one group or the other, or an individual. Everybody has a right of appeal and that is what FINA has done, so it is no different from an athlete having the right of appeal. So it is not a question of casting aspersions on anybody, it is a right of appeal which FINA has taken up. That's all. That is all the case is and that has been done on numerous occasions and you are fully aware that where cases have been overturned, that does not indicate the inefficiency or efficiency of a group of people."

Here is the original press release from FINA regarding the Thorpe matter.

Following the report by a sector of the foreign media, FINA confirms that an appeal has been lodged to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) on a doping control test conducted by ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority).

The FINA Doping Control Review Board (DCRB), consisting of experts on doping issues and directors of several WADA approved laboratories, considered the findings of this sample as an adverse analytical result.

Based on their professional expertise and recommendation, and according to FINA Rules, an appeal has been lodged to CAS with the aim of clarifying the issues surrounding this case.

On the tests conducted by a National Anti-Doping Agency or National Federation, the procedure is that FINA receives the result of the laboratory analysis, which states only the number of the respective sample and not the name of the athlete.

As the matter now rests with CAS, FINA cannot make any further comment on this issue.