Interviewed by Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper at the Alpine World Cup opener in Sölden, Austria, International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian Franco Kasper said that Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug should likely get a four-year ban.
“It is first a foremost a national case now and it is up to the Norwegians to find a solution,” Kasper said. “After that FIS or WADA may appeal, and we must do so if nothing happens or whatever happens isn’t enough.”
He said that after receiving a four-year ban, Johaug could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and perhaps negotiate her suspension down by 12-18 months.
Johaug tested positive for the anabolic steroid clostebol on September 16, 2016. She has said that the drug was in a lip cream given to her by a team doctor to treat a severe sunburn at a training camp in Italy; Anti-Doping Norway has provisionally suspended her for two months while they investigate the case.
A final decision on whether and how to suspend Johaug will be taken by the Arbitration Committee of the Norwegian Olympic Committee. While Johaug could appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if she feels the suspension is unfairly harsh – and she has signaled that she likely would, as she considers herself completely innocent – either the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or FIS could also appeal the case if they believe that the World Anti-Doping Code has not been correctly applied by the arbitrators.
While admitting that he had seen no details of the case, Kasper said that FIS would do just that.
“Normally, if she is guilty, it is very clear that she should receive a 4-year ban,” Kasper said, according to a translation. “There really is no question about that. And then she can appeal to the courts, and normally she would then have her punishment reduced to 2 and ½ or 3-years, but that’s really just speculating.”
Christian Hjort, Johaug’s lawyer, found it inappropriate for Kasper to comment on the case without having seen documents from the investigation, which is headed by another governing body and is not associated with his own organization.
“I reacted strongly to FIS boss’s statements in advance of a pending case… This shows an alarming lack of understanding of [organizations’] roles and little confidence in their own judging bodies,” Hjort told Norwegian newspaper VG.
Kasper also said that he didn’t totally buy Johaug’s explanation that Trofodermin, a lip cream, caused her positive test.
“Listen, I haven’t seen the evidence,” he said. “That’ll be up to the medical experts to determine, but I have my doubts. Now, doubt doesn’t necessarily mean anything so we need to get all the facts on the table.”
Norwegian team doctor Fredrik Bendiksen – who has since resigned his position – allegedly bought Trofodermin at an Italian pharmacy and told Johaug that it did not contain anything banned by WADA.
Medications which contain prohibited substances are required to be labeled in Italy. Multiple sources have traveled to Italy to buy the drug, and all reported that the cardboard packaging contains a label warning of doping. The label is not visible on the front (display side) of the package, but is prominent on the back: “If the packets that there are pictures of now are the same as what Johaug’s doctor purchased, one can’t know what to believe,” TV2’s Mads Kaggestad said. “You would have to be blind not to see it. It is not possible not to see it.”
Nevertheless, Bendiksen says that he cannot remember seeing the warning, and the ski federation no longer has the cardboard packaging to determine whether the label was in fact lacking. There is no labeling on the tube of medication itself. However, Norwegian Olympic Committee statutes require that athletes investigate any medication they take to make sure that it does not contain prohibited substances.
Antidoping Norway has stated that the concentration of clostebol found in Johaug’s urine sample was low enough to be consistent with use through a skin cream, although that does not rule out other possible mechanisms of use.
FIS had previously expressed frustration regarding how Norway handled the case. Antidoping Norway did not notify FIS before the case was made public, which happened while Kasper and FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis were at meetings in Finland.
“I wasn’t happy about the way I was informed of the case,” Kasper said. “I was in a room full of journalists in Lahti and in the middle of my speech this guy raises his arm and calls out that Johaug had tested positive. And I’m giving a speech about doping, it was strange time to be informed.”
And that weekend, Lewis had told the media that “the Norwegian Ski Federation is facing some major challenges.”
Kasper agreed in the new Dagbladet interview, and said that he hoped the Norwegians would undertake the case with care.
“They’re doing what they can, but luckily they haven’t got much experience from similar cases,” he said of Anti-Doing Norway. “Up until now there’s no discussion about that but it really depends on what they do in the next couple of months. If they acquit the poor girl without any disucussion we will of course take action. If they can prove that she is innocent that would be nice but we’ll see.”
FIS was directly responsible for the case of Johaug’s teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby. In that case, the ski federation did not issue a four year ban and let Sundby appeal. Rather, FIS concluded that Sundby had not broken any rules by using high doses of the asthma medication salbutamol. WADA appealed the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Sundby ultimately served a two-month ban.
Kasper now appears to be calling for a ban more than ten times as long for Johaug.
“We’ve had a year full of other doping cases so this is just two more cases that have appeared,” he continued. “I hope that it is a coincidence that they appear now because Norway has alays been a great example to us when it comes to dealing with doping. It is clear that they may have been unfortunate, but I never trust anyone in doping related matters. You never know what happens behind closed doors.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.