The International Ski Federation (FIS) is appealing the suspension of Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug. The organization asks for a longer sanction than the-13 month ban she was initially served by the Norwegian Olympic Committee.
Johaug tested positive for the banned steroid clostebol, which was an ingredient in a lip cream she used to treat a combination of sunburn and cold sore. The Norwegian Olympic Committee had decided that this merited a 13-month suspension, which would see Johaug returning to team training in September and then cleared to compete in the 2018 Olympics.
The standard penalty for a positive test is a four-year ban, but the length may be reduced if there is deemed to be no significant fault by the athlete. As FasterSkier noted at the time, even considering reductions, 13 months is an unusual duration for a suspension. Many suspensions are in one-year increments, or else in three-month increments for shorter suspensions.
The concept of strict liability applies to doping cases.
“The principle of strict liability is applied in situations where urine/blood samples collected from an athlete have produced adverse analytical results,” WADA writes on its website. “It means that each athlete is strictly liable for the substances found in his or her bodily specimen, and that an anti-doping rule violation occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in bodily specimen, whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault.”
The Norwegian Olympic Committee had decided that Johaug bore reduced fault. In her hearing testimony, she said that a team doctor had given her the medication and told her that it contained no prohibited substances.
FIS found this claim insufficient to mitigate Johaug’s responsibility, and the federation is heading to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) may still also decide to join the appeal.
“The Committee, when issuing the 13 month suspension, found that Therese Johaug had committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation and held that she acted not without no fault, but rather with no significant fault,” FIS wrote in a press release. “The evidence before the Committee established that the use of the banned substance was unintentional and based upon the advice of a trusted and reputable doctor. However, the FIS Doping Panel has found that the sanction imposed is on the low end of the range of reasonable sanctions and fails to adequately reflect the fact that the athlete Therese Johaug failed to read the doping warning label printed in red on the package despite the fact that the medication was unknown to her and was purchased in a foreign country.”
Johaug’s lawyer, Christian Hjorth, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that Johaug was “disappointed and sad” with the move by FIS.
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.