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Lawyer on Froome case: ‘We are simply at the investigative stage’

Sports lawyer and anti-doping litigation expert Dr. Gregory Ioannidis helps us better understand the Froome case.

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Yesterday we spoke to an anti-doping expert on Salbutamol, and today we reached out to a legal expert on the ramifications we can expect from the ongoing Chris Froome case.

Dr. Gregory Ioannidis is a sports lawyer and anti-doping litigation expert who also lectures at the Sheffield Hallam University in England. He’s been on the frontline of many legal battles in anti-doping cases.

Froome’s case has raised eyebrows over the fact that he has not received a provisional ban despite returning an “adverse analytical finding.” According to WADA rules, in this instance, Froome is allowed an opportunity to make his case because Salbutamol is categorized as a “specified substance.” There are some procedural wrinkles that are different if an athlete is popped for an outright banned substance when a provisional ban is immediately imposed following a positive B-sample.

It’s worth reading this Twitter thread from Lukas Knöfler, who dug through pertinent documents related to Froome.

The takeaways: It’s important to remember that the “Froome file” is still in the investigative phase. There’s been no provisional ban, and no disciplinary action taken yet. And second, it remains to be seen if Froome will automatically be disqualified from the Vuelta a España victory despite his “adverse analytical finding” for a high presence of Salbutamol. And third, this might take a long while to play out.

Dr. Ioannidis was en route to, of all places, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but he agreed to answer the following questions via an email:

VeloNews: What was your first reaction, from a lawyer’s point of view, when you heard about the Froome situation?
Dr. Gregory Ioannidis: I have represented more than 100 athletes over the last few years on allegations of anti-doping rule violations, and I always keep an open mind. Every case is different and very fact- and evidence-specific, so people must not judge until all the evidence has been fully examined and evaluated and the athlete has given the opportunity to present his case.

VN: If you were going to defend Froome, what would a legal team want to do to demonstrate his ‘innocence’?
GI: There are several ways of defending an athlete and in relation to this specific substance. Out of professional courtesy towards the colleagues who represent the rider, I would not wish to enter into specifics.

VN: Why is the case in CADF, instead of going through a national governing body? (i.e., the British cycling federation) Have rules changed? Or is this a normal procedural step?
GI: CADF is an independent and non-profit organization with responsibilities of testing. We are not yet at the process of a disciplinary hearing where the national federation could be in charge. We are simply at the investigative stage.

VN: How much will the amount of Salbutamol found in Froome’s sample — double the threshold level — “complicate” the Froome defense? It is fair to assume that such a large difference will make a defense more challenging?
GI: To a certain extent it will and the use of expert witnesses here will be imperative.

VN: From your experience, do you see this going all the way to CAS?
GI: You cannot predict the outcome of a matter such as the present one and CAS is always a possibility.

VN: If Froome is cleared, would WADA or another agency have a right to appeal the case to CAS? And the same for Froome is he is not cleared?
GI: Yes, CAS is the final arbiter. The parties could also refer the matter to CAS directly, for adjudication, without the need for a national first-instance hearing.

VN: What are the criteria for an appeal challenge? Simply that one party does not agree with the ruling, or is there an underlying legal basis required as well?
GI: Unless the parties to the dispute decide to refer the matter directly to CAS, there has to be a decision that goes against one of the parties to the dispute. The Decision will form the legal basis of the appeal, as well as an arbitration agreement between the parties to refer the matter to CAS. If these pre-requisites are met, CAS will assume jurisdiction to hear the matter.

VN: Speaking of a timeframe, how long do you expect this to play out?
GI: It depends on how expedient the investigative bodies are and how soon the relevant governing body decides to charge the rider or not. In the interests of justice and fairness to the rider, charges, if any, need to be notified to the rider as soon as possible, particularly in light of this matter now becoming public.

VN: Is it correct to say that Froome is facing a possible ban, as well as a possible disqualification from the Vuelta?
GI: This would depend on the evidence against him. There is a positive result and because of strict liability, a potential ban is a possibility. Of course, the athlete would have the opportunity to state his case and show that he bears no fault or negligence or no significant fault or negligence, as per the relevant WADA rules.

VN: What are the maximum and minimum outlines concerning ban and/or DQ?
GI: If the prosecuting authority decides that the element of intention is not present, the maximum ban could be 24 months. The athlete will be given the opportunity to eliminate this or reduce it.

VN: Does an ‘adverse analytical finding’ automatically result in disqualification from the Vuelta, even if he does not see a racing ban?
GI: UCI rules, in line with WADA rules, include an automatic suspension, where there is an anti-doping rule violation. As far as I am concerned, Froome has not been suspended.

VN: Some have suggested that CADF and UCI officials are not playing fair with the Froome case; have you seen anything to support that argument of playing favorites?
GI: The issue of the provisional suspension is of interest and possibly one that raises questions.

VN: From your experience, what outcome do you see in this case?
GI: Unless there is evidence to support some kind of metabolism abnormality in the rider’s system and in the remotest of scenarios some sort of sabotage, a ban may be a possibility. However, it will all depend on the defense the athlete produces.

VN: From a broader point of view, how important is this case in larger the anti-doping effort? Do you see any wider implications?
GI: The role and the conduct of the relevant sporting governing bodies here are of immense importance. Not only do they have a responsibility to ensure the rights of innocent athletes are protected, but they also need to be seen to act accordingly.

Listen to our discussion of the Froome case on the VeloNews podcast: