CAS suspends Petacchi

The International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, (CAS) ruled Tuesday that Italian sprint star Alessandro Petacchi will be ineligible to compete until August 31, because of a doping case stemming from last year's Giro d'Italia.

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Petacchi has been suspended until August 31.

Petacchi has been suspended until August 31.

Photo: Graham Watson

The International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, (CAS) ruled Tuesday that Italian sprint star Alessandro Petacchi will be ineligible to compete until August 31, because of a doping case stemming from last year’s Giro d’Italia.

The 34-year-old Petacchi tested positive for the drug Salbutamol in May after one of his five wins in last year’s Giro. The Milram sprinter was originally cleared of the charge by the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) last July, which found that Petacchi overused his inhaler after the stage and may have accidentally swallowed some of the drug in the process. However, the the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) argued that since the level of the drug exceeded permitted levels, Petacchi should still be suspended and appealed the FCI ruling to CAS.

While noting that Petacchi may well have accidentally inhaled too much of the bronchodilator and bore “no significant fault or negligence,” the CAS panel, nonetheless, suspended him for a year, but declined to impose a full two-year penalty.

“In order to establish no fault or negligence an athlete has to show that he used ‘utmost caution,’ the panel concluded. “Even on his own account, Mr. Petacchi took more than the authorized dose. He cannot establish that he used utmost caution.”

“CAS has ruled that Alessandro Petacchi is ineligible to compete for a period of one year, less two months already served,” the court noted in its decision. “Therefore, the period of ineligibility will run from 1 November, 2007, to 31 August, 2008.”

The court also ruled that all of Petacchi’s results from the 2007 Giro should be scratched from the record books.

“All competitive results obtained by Alessandro Petacchi during the 2007 Giro d’Italia shall be disqualified with all of the resulting consequences including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes,” the court ruled. “Alessandro Petacchi can retain all other competitive results between 23 May 2007 and 31 October 2007, but all competitive results obtained after 31 October 2007, and during the period of ineligibility will be disqualified.”

The ruling also negates the results of Petacchi’s two stage victories at the recent Tour of Turkey.

Petacchi was accused of doping after a urine sample he gave at Pinerolo on May 23, 2007, the third of his five stage wins in last year’s Giro, showed an unusually high level of Salbutamol, a substance primarily used to treat asthma.

Salbutamol is banned, but riders suffering from asthma are allowed restricted use of the drug if they have a medical certificate.

Petacchi has such a certificate – a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) – having suffered from asthma for many years. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list notes, however, that riders whose urine samples show a concentration of Salbutamol greater than 1000 nanograms per milliliter must prove that the elevated level is a result of normal therapeutic use. If a rider with a TUE produces a level lower than 1000 ng/mL the burden of proof falls to anti-doping authorities, if they wish to show a violation.

Studies have shown that in addition to aiding in the treatment of asthma, Salbutamol can be used to increase an athlete’s anaerobic power. According to study results, peak power appeared significantly earlier and was noticeably increased after Salbutamol use.

Petacchi produced a level higher than the upper limit and was required to show that he did not take the drug orally or inject it and that his use of the inhaler was in keeping with its normal therapeutic use. Last year, the FCI ruled that Petacchi and his attorneys had met that standard of proof. A CAS panel, however, disagreed and ordered Petacchi’s suspension until August 31.

Despite the ruling, the panel did not accuse Petacchi of cheating.

“The panel is satisfied that Mr. Petacchi is not a cheat,” the decision noted, “and that the adverse analytical finding in this case is the result of Mr. Petacchi simply, and possibly accidentally, taking too much Salbutamol on the day of the test, but that the overdose was not taken with the intention of enhancing his performance. Indeed, it would be an unusual way of attempting to enhance performance to take the prohibited substance after the particular event had concluded.”

“In the circumstances, the panel is satisfied that Mr. Petacchi bears no significant fault or negligence … therefore the panel can reduce the period of ineligibility.”

The most significant impact of the ruling will come in July. Petacchi had already announced that he would not take part in this year’s Giro d’Italia, because he is suffering from bronchitis. He had, however, planned to participate in the Tour de France.

Since CAS is the sporting world’s highest court, Petacchi has no more options to appeal the decision.