Irish Olympic Relay Hopeful Robbie Powell Lands 1-Year Ban After Costly Mistake Leads To Doping Positive

Robbie Powell of Ireland - Photo Courtesy: Funky Trunks - John Breslin

Robbie Powell, a swimmer at the heart of Ireland’s efforts to grant the nation its first Olympic swimming relay, has been suspended for a year after a costly mistake with an eczema medicine led to him testing positive for a banned substance.

Adjudicators in the anti-doping case ruled that “No Significant Fault or Negligence” was applicable to Powell, aged 20. He had made a costly mistake when he turned to an alternative remedy to the treatment he usually applies for eczema, a condition that causes inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough skin.

Powell believed that he had used his usual remedy, which contains no banned substances, but the alternative tube of cream he used to apply a “pea-sized” amount of cream to his skin when he suffered a flare up in November last year contained the steroid Clostebol. The dosage found in the swimmer’s system was negligible but a fraction the wrong side of the ‘law’. The details are explained in the ruling in full.

After the positive test last November, Powell cooperated fully with the anti-doping authorities. He accepted the adverse finding of the “A” sample, waived his right to have the “B” sample tested and provided investigators comprehensive information about the medication he had taken.

The summary of the judgement from Sport Ireland includes:

“Sport Ireland was satisfied that the Athlete had established that the violation was not intentional and further that he bore No Significant Fault Or Negligence.”

Swim Ireland and Sport Ireland today jointly announced that Robert Powell – Robbie Powell – has committed an anti-doping rule violation and that a one-year penalty would be backdated to the date of the adverse finding, 28th November 2019.

In a short statement, Swim Ireland noted: “Pursuant to Article 9.3, the Athlete’s results from 28 November 2019 (the date of Sample collection) to 10 January 2020 (the date of Provisional Suspension) are Disqualified, including a forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.”

Powell intends to return to swimming when his suspension runs out in November. The one-year delay to the Olympic Games in Tokyo caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic will mean that Powell would be eligible to compete at trials and seek to help Ireland qualify a 4x200m freestyle relay. Ireland last had a swimming relay at an Olympics in 1972, while Irish men have never qualified for an Olympic relay.

Swim Ireland had worked constructively with Sport Ireland on getting to the truth of the case, “as had the athlete”, said Jon Rudd, head of Performance at Swim Ireland. He noted:

“We take all doping offences very seriously. The situation and the nature of the case are really disappointing because it could have been avoided.

“As a performance team and as a national governing body, we are staunch anti-doping advocates. There is some solace in the fact that there was no significant fault or negligence involved and that the sanction reflected the facts of the case.”

Asked about Powell’s eventual return to swimming with lessons learned, Rudd said:

“We do have to have a conversation amongst ourselves as to what happens next – and the swimmer will be involved in that. There’s a discussion that needs to take place – and that’s one you hope you’ll never have to have.”

Checking medications, including straightforward treatments such as those for eczema and conditions such as the common cold, is critical in performance sport, Rudd noted, emphasising that he and the Ireland performance team are “strong advocates for the need for athletes to be careful” with any medication.

Powell’s one-year suspension for his mistake falls well shy of the possible four-year ban that could be served for the substance in question, depending on circumstances, but goes well beyond the controversial three-month backdated ban handed to Olympic champion Sun Yang – but never actually served – for the Chinese swimmer’s positive test for a heart booster back in 2014.



  1. Mike Mcgowan

    Brings up 1972 Olympics. Rick Demont. Made the team won the 400 free then tested positive for a banned substance. Was DQ’d had to return the gold and could not swim the 1500. He had asthma the med was changed by his doctor before the Olympics nobody ckd the ban list at that time coaches or doctors. Takes only one time.

    • Craig Lord

      Mike Mcgowan mistake made by athlete in this case, of course….Rick was even younger and let down by others

  2. Peter Scott

    Sadly there are those athletes who test positive in this way…..they get a ban….while often those that a systematically cheating get away with it. Sadly those standing up and fighting for clean sport are often those vilified by the govening bodies and those people that support the cheats. Safe and fair sport for all. Stay safe😷

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