If you follow European soccer, you probably know that the sample Sakho submitted after that March 17 match tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. You may faintly recall hearing that the charge was later dismissed for some reason. But unless you're a die-hard Liverpool fan or a fervent chronicler of doping cases, you probably never heard why.Sakho's case is an example of how doping charges are rarely the black-and-white, good versus evil dichotomy they're portrayed to be. You probably never heard much about Sakho's case because it's hard to make sense of it. Sometimes, doping cases are messy.
On June 30, one week before the hearing, Sakho's team submitted to evidence their expert testimonies by Bloomer, Kobilka, and the two lab directors, as well as two additional pieces of evidence. One was a PowerPoint presentation hosted on WADA's website by Dr. Audrey Kinahan, the chair of the Prohibited List Expert Group. The presentation, from a 2014 WADA Therapeutic Use Exemption Symposium, covered which beta2-Agonists are banned and in what quantities. The presentation did not mention Higenamine, even on the final slide titled "All Other beta2-Agonists."Along with the PowerPoint, Sakho's lawyers also submitted the minutes from an April 25, 2016 Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations (iNADO) meeting, the international member body for National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs). The minutes, reviewed by VICE Sports, included a "key item discussed by the List Expert Group" bulleted list. One of the bullets was for "Review of some substances or methods for their current status and/or their possible inclusion on the Prohibited List (e.g. nickel, higenamine, hyperbaric oxygen, nicomorphine, tramadol)." At the very least, this implies doubt as to whether Higenamine was a banned substance.
Tweet from Sakho's official account from France vs Russia on March 29, which Sakho started. Although the sample in question had already been collected, neither UEFA nor Sakho had yet been informed of a positive test.
The UEFA panel sided with Sakho. They ruled that there are "significant doubts" as to whether Higenamine is a beta2-agonist, a direct contradiction of WADA's position. The panel also ruled that even if Higenamine was covered by the prohibited list, WADA did not effectively communicate that to their labs as evidenced by the fact that a "majority" of WADA-accredited labs didn't test for it at all.The fact that most labs weren't testing for Higenamine explains why there were no positive tests until last year despite having been "banned" by WADA for 13 years. And if the labs didn't know Higenamine was banned, then athletes couldn't be expected to, either. As such, the case against Sakho was dismissed, and WADA opted not to appeal the ruling to the Court of Arbitration of Sport.But the damage to Sakho's career had been done. UEFA's decision came down on July 7, the same day France beat Germany 2-0 to advance to the Euro Finals. Starting at centerback alongside longtime France international Laurent Koscielny was Samuel Umtiti, making his first caps for the team in that tournament. Sakho, who has 28 career appearances for France, started three times for Deschamps in the 2014 World Cup and helped keep two clean sheets. It's impossible to say whether Sakho would have played in the Euros if not for the positive doping test given that Umtiti is a rising star and had just transferred to Barcelona. But Sakho almost certainly would have been called up.
In 2017, WADA added Higenamine by name as a beta2-agonist to the updated banned substance list, despite the scientific debate over its status. This means that Sakho's case will never be repeated, at least not with Higenamine specifically. Anyone who tests positive for it in the future will have no excuses.They will also have a difficult time challenging the science behind Higenamine being on the banned list. According to Jacobs, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been unwilling to consider the scientific merit of banned substances during appeals once they're specifically named.This is, in part, because the bar for banning a substance is incredible low. Any banned substance must meet two of three criteria according to WADA: 1) It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance 2) It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete 3) It violates the spirit of sport. Because the "spirit of sport" clause is basically a freebie, a substance need only to potentially pose a health risk or potentially enhance performance, either of which is an easy hurdle to clear.Considering Sakho's case, UEFA's stern ruling, and the effects it had on his career, it's certainly fair to wonder if Sakho would consider a lawsuit. Jacobs didn't want to speculate on Sakho's intentions, especially since it would not be filed in the United States where Jacobs practices and he would likely not be involved. But he did say that a lawsuit is certainly "worth exploring."However, there are some potential complications. One is as exactly who to sue. Jacobs said UEFA would probably argue that they were informed of a positive drug test and had to pursue it according to their bylaws. So too might the Cologne lab argue they were simply following WADA's instructions.Then Jacobs paused and thought for a second. "I don't know what WADA would say."
Petite visite pour encourager toute l'équipe avant la finale !July 10, 2016