On Tuesday, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced that it will not ban 400m world champion Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain following four whereabouts failures in 2019 and 2020—news which has sparked a media outcry. Naser was provisionally suspended by the AIU in June following her whereabouts failures, and after months of deliberation, her suspension has been lifted due to a technicality. While she is in the clear for now, the AIU notes that her most recent whereabouts failure is still on her record, where it will stay until early 2021.
The World Athletics Disciplinary Tribunal has dismissed the charges brought by the AIU against Salwa Eid Naser (BRN) for alleged Whereabouts failures.
The decision can be read here ⬇️https://t.co/cBkQOqSHT4
— Athletics Integrity Unit (@aiu_athletics) October 20, 2020
What is a whereabouts failure?
The World Athletics anti-doping rules state that athletes must keep testers up to date regarding their whereabouts at all times. As written in the AIU’s report on Naser, an athlete must submit quarterly whereabouts filings that identify “where he/she will be living, training and competing” for the following three months. An athlete must also submit daily whereabouts updates, but only for a 60-minute window each day.
The AIU website outlines the two types of whereabouts failures: filing failures and missed tests. An athlete incurs a filing failure when they aren’t where they said they would be (most commonly at home in the middle of the night) in their quarterly update. A missed test, on the other hand, means an athlete cannot be found during their daily 60-minute testing window. It is an athlete’s responsibility to alert testers if their plans and whereabouts change. If an athlete receives three whereabouts failures in a 12-month span, they will be provisionally suspended, which is what happened to Naser earlier this year.
— NBC OlympicTalk (@NBCOlympicTalk) October 20, 2020
A whereabouts loophole
Naser registered four whereabouts failures from March 2019 to January 2020. Her first came on March 12, 2019—a missed test. The second, four days later on March 16, was a filing failure. Her third and fourth—both missed tests—came on April 12, 2019, and January 24, 2020. The April missed test should have been her third whereabouts failure in just one month, but Naser challenged it and the AIU “did not proceed at that time with a formal charge.” With the April test removed from her file, she had two whereabouts failures going into 2020, when she received her third.
In the end, this third whereabouts failure didn’t matter much, as a loophole in the anti-doping system allowed Naser to get off scot-free. This is the same loophole that U.S. 100m world champion Christian Coleman used to avoid a ban in 2019. Whereabouts failures for missed tests are filed on the exact day an athlete missed a test. Filing failures, however, are backdated to the start of the quarter. Even though Naser’s filing failure occurred in March 2019, it was backdated to January 1, which was more than 12 months before her missed test on January 24, 2020.
Now, with just the one whereabouts failure on her record, Naser can get back to competition and begin preparations for her build to the Tokyo Olympics next summer.