December 02, 2005

Lagat, Offered Nothing, Says No Thanks

In August 2003, Bernard Lagat (then of Kenya) tested positive for EPO as the result of an out-of-competition urine test. The IAAF suspended Lagat and informed the Kenyan athletics federation, who promptly leaked the news to the press. Lagat missed the 2003 World Championships and several other lucrative meets that summer while he was suspended. In October that same year, Lagat's B sample tested negative.

Here's what the WADA Code has to say about this situation:

If a Provisional Suspension is imposed based on an A Sample Adverse Analytical Finding and a subsequent B Sample analysis does not confirm the A Sample analysis, then the Athlete shall not be subject to any further disciplinary action and any sanction previously imposed shall be rescinded.

What's a B Sample?

There is sometimes confusion in the press about what a "B sample" is. When urine is collected for a doping test, it is divided into two separately sealed containers; one is labeled 'A' and the other is labeled 'B.' The B sample is therefore not a separate sample at all; it is just another part of the same urine sample.

The B sample is never opened, unless there is an "adverse analytical finding" (positive test result) from the A sample. The intent is to provide a backup check of the testing procedure, not to test the athlete a second time.

The article linked to here claims that the B sample was "taken on September 29." That cannot be true. The B sample and the A sample must be taken at the same time. The clearing time for EPO, in particular, is only a few days, so a second test taken two months after the fact would be meaningless.

If you're interested in reading more about the urine sample collection process, you can read the WADA Guidelines for Urine Collection.

Well, that's clear enough, then. Mr. Lagat, you're free to go.

Unfortunately, Bernard Lagat decided to get uppity about the situation. He launched a lawsuit against the IAAF and WADA, claiming loss of income as a result of his two-month suspension. The IAAF, apparently a bit nervous about the prospect, came up with a deal; reported that:

Lagat will be exonerated of any doping offense if he drops his lawsuit seeking compensation from the IAAF … "We are very pleased and we expect the athlete to accept it as well," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said.

But why would anybody expect Lagat to take this deal? He had already been cleared of doping charges, when his B sample turned up negative. The IAAF knew this, of course; in the same article, Davies is later quoted as saying "The A and B samples didn't match and for us, he committed no doping offense and was free to compete." So even though the IAAF was already admitting that according to IAAF and WADA rules Bernard Lagat had not committed a doping offense, they still expected him to drop his lawsuit in exchange for being "exonerated?"

This week, the inevitable happened. Lagat decided to reject the deal:

Lagat's statement said he couldn't accept the IAAF compromise because it didn't contain an apology, didn't acknowledge testing methods weren't fail-safe and didn't include compensation.

As I've said before, WADA and the IFs are not going to voluntarily admit that the testing methods are imperfect. Such an admission would open them up to a long line of appeals and lawsuits like this one. My prediction is that the IAAF will next try to reach a financial settlement with Lagat, to avoid a legal judgement that highlights flaws in the anti-doping tests. For my part, I hope that Lagat does not give in; a good hard look at the urinary EPO test is critical to ensure fairness to all.

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