The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) banned Australian cyclist and former world junior champion Mark French for life on Monday over doping offenses, including the trafficking of banned substances.
French, 19, was found guilty by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month of trafficking gluco-corticosteroid and equine growth hormone and was handed a two-year suspension.
Trafficking, however, attracts a lifetime ban under AOC rules. The AOC noted that the lifetime ban, the first time such a penalty has been imposed, could be reduced to a minimum of eight years if French gave evidence against others involved in drug trafficking.
“Today Bob Elphinston, the AOC secretary general, has written to Mark French advising him that in light of the fact that two of the charges against him that were found proven involved trafficking, Mark is ineligible for life to represent Australia at the Olympic Games,” AOC legal counsel Simon Rofe told reporters.
A Senate hearing into the matter was told last week that syringes and vials containing an equine growth hormone were found in French’s room at the Australian Institute of Sport’s cycling centre in Adelaide this year.
In sworn evidence at his closed drugs hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the disgraced French implicated five other cyclists in injecting banned substances at the government-funded sports facility, including two potential Athens gold medalists.
The ban could be reduced to eight years if French gives evidence against others believed to be involved in the affair.
“We cannot believe today’s news – Mark has obviously become a political football,” French’s father David said Monday. “Is there any other Australian athlete who has been punished like this without ever having tested positive to a banned substance?” Rofe acknowledged the penalty on French, who won two titles at the 2001 world junior track championships and another two in Melbourne at the 2002 championships, was tough.
“The simple message (is) that the AOC is treating its athletes the same as it asks the rest of the world to treat theirs,” he said.
Federal Sports Minister Rod Kemp announced an independent investigation into the allegations about illegal drug use in Australian cycling.
The investigation, to be chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Robert Adamson QC, will examine French’s allegations that five other cyclists used his AIS room in Adelaide to inject substances, including banned products.
Adamson will have only three weeks to complete his inquiry, ahead of the AOC approving the Australian Olympic track cycling team for the Athens Games, which start on August 13.
The AOC has sought assurances from Cycling Australia it will send a clean cycling team to Athens and for the claims made against other athletes to be resolved by July 9 – the deadline for Olympic nominations.
“If we aren’t convinced the five athletes are clean we won’t be selecting them,” Rofe said.
Cycling Australia (CA) high performance manager Mike Flynn said members of the national track squad were coping well with the scandal as the Games approached and hoped French would make his allegations public so they could respond.
“I’m very proud of how they’re dealing with this,” Flynn said Monday. “They’re professional enough to be able to get the job done. They believe it’s their right for Mark French to bring forward names with the evidence – in public.”