04/22/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/22/2021 13:16
In light of questions that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) continues to receive from the media and other stakeholders concerning the case of Italian race walker, Alex Schwazer, WADA wishes to share the following statement, which re-confirms its position on this matter (including its 18 February 2021 statement) and addresses some key questions of this case.
On 18 February, an investigating judge in Bolzano, Judge Walter Pelino, made a series of accusations against World Athletics, the anti-doping laboratory in Cologne, and WADA. These were not findings in a judgment rendered after a trial of those three bodies, in which they had been properly confronted with the accusations and given a full and fair opportunity to defend themselves. Instead, they were made in a pre-trial decree issued by the investigating judge in criminal proceedings relating to Alex Schwazer. Nor does WADA, World Athletics, or the Cologne laboratory have any right of appeal against these accusations.
The lack of fairness and due process is obvious. WADA is therefore forced to defend itself publicly, so that fair-minded observers can understand the true facts and make their own assessment. It would take many pages to correct all of the mistakes and misunderstandings in the investigating judge's decree. In this statement, therefore, WADA addresses only the central accusation, namely that Mr. Schwazer was framed by spiking his urine sample with synthetic testosterone.
Mr. Schwazer's anti-doping rule violations
Mr. Schwazer is a race walker from the Bolzano region of Italy who won gold in the men's 50km race at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In July 2012, just before the London Olympics, Mr. Schwazer tested positive for EPO and was subsequently banned from sport for three and a half years. He was also prosecuted in Bolzano for doping (which is a crime in Italy), and entered into a plea bargain after admitting intentionally taking EPO and testosterone.
World Athletics had a further sample collected from Mr. Schwazer on 1 January 2016, as the end of his ban approached. The anti-doping laboratory in Cologne reported the sample negative for prohibited substances after initial routine testing. It detected testosterone in the sample, but the body produces some testosterone naturally ('endogenously'), and there was nothing on the face of the screening results to indicate that the testosterone in Mr. Schwazer's sample was synthetic.
However, the results of elite athletes are tracked over time in the Athlete Biological Passport system in order to identify suspicious profiles, and when the independent Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) at the anti-doping laboratory in Montreal reviewed Mr. Schwazer's anonymized profile, it noticed that the steroid values in the January 2016 sample were inconsistent with the other steroid values in the profile. It therefore asked the Cologne laboratory to test the January 2016 sample again using a specific technique - isotope-ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) - to determine whether the testosterone in the sample was natural or synthetic. The IRMS testing showed that the testosterone was synthetic (a fact that Mr. Schwazer has never disputed), and therefore Mr. Schwazer was charged with a second doping offence.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) heard the case in July 2016. It rejected the various complaints that Mr. Schwazer made about the handling and testing of his sample, including his allegation that the sample must have been tampered with, and banned him for eight more years, the lengthy ban reflecting the fact that it was his second offence (CAS 2016/A/4707).
Criminal proceedings against Mr. Schwazer
WADA was involved neither in the collection of the sample from Mr. Schwazer in January 2016, nor in the Cologne laboratory's initial testing of that sample, nor in the APMU's request that the sample be re-tested using IRMS, nor in that subsequent re-testing. However, when criminal proceedings were opened against Mr. Schwazer in Bolzano after the CAS banned him for a second doping offence, WADA was invited to participate as an aggrieved party and offered its support to the Bolzano court. At no point was WADA told that it was being investigated for any alleged wrongdoing. Instead, the case was only about whether Mr. Schwazer should be prosecuted for doping under Italian criminal law.
The accusation that the sample was tampered with to frame Mr. Schwazer
The investigating judge was provided with urine left over from Mr. Schwazer's 1 January 2016 sample, and ordered further testing of that sample, which confirmed that the urine contained only Mr. Schwazer's DNA.
The investigating judge has now decided that an unidentified person secretly obtained a third party's sample that contained synthetic testosterone, exposed it to ultra violet rays to remove all traces of that third party's DNA, mixed it with Mr. Schwazer's January 2016 urine sample, then heated the combined sample to increase the concentration of synthetic testosterone in the (combined) sample.
The key evidence the judge relies on to make that finding is the fact that one aliquot (portion) of Mr. Schwazer's January 2016 B sample, when tested for DNA more than two years later, contained Mr. Schwazer's DNA at a concentration of approximately 2,500 pg/µL. The court-appointed expert opined that, given degradation over time, at the time of collection the DNA concentration in the sample could have been as high as 18,969 pg/µL. The investigating judge decided that concentration was outside the range of DNA concentrations that would be seen in a healthy human such as Mr. Schwazer. He therefore concluded that the sample must have been spiked and concentrated in the manner described above.
In response, WADA notes the following:
WADA is shocked that the investigating judge would see fit to issue a decree making these very serious accusations without first giving WADA or the other parties an adequate opportunity to defend themselves. That is not due process. WADA utterly rejects the allegations made against it by the investigating judge. So too will any fair-minded observer who is prepared to listen objectively to all of the evidence.