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Salwa Eid Naser handed two-year ban, will miss Tokyo Olympics

The reigning 400m world champ received the news that she has been banned from competition a full year after her initial suspension

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has banned Bahrain’s 400m world champion Salwa Eid Naser from competition for two years following missed drug tests in 2019 and 2020. Naser, who won her maiden 400m world title in 2019, was suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) in June 2020 for the whereabouts failures, but in October of last year, the organization dropped the charges and her suspension was lifted. When the AIU announced this decision, World Athletics and the World Anti-Doping Agency made an appeal to the CAS, which decided on Wednesday to ban Naser. Her ban is effective immediately, meaning she will miss the Tokyo Olympics. 

World Athletics anti-doping rules require athletes to update testers on their whereabouts at all times. Athletes do this every quarter throughout the year, filing their whereabouts plans for the upcoming few months and, as outlined in the 2020 AIU report on Naser, noting “where he/she will be living, training and competing.” If plans change, the athlete must let testers know. Athletes don’t have to be available for testing 24/7, but they must set aside a 60-minute time slot every day during which anti-doping officials can show up for a test. 

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There are two types of whereabouts failures: filing failures and missed tests. A filing failure means an athlete isn’t where they said they would be on a given day throughout the year. A missed test means the athlete missed a drug test during their prescheduled 60-minute window. (Many athletes opt to schedule this hour time slot early in the morning, when they know they’ll be at home.) If an athlete receives three whereabouts failures in a 12-month period, they are provisionally suspended, which is why Naser originally faced charges in June 2020.

Rather than recording three whereabouts failures, though, Naser managed to tally four before the AIU suspended her. Her first came on March 12, 2019, when she missed a test, and less than a week later, on March 16, she recorded a filing failure. A pair of missed tests followed, first in April and then in January 2020. That missed test in April 2020 should have counted as Naser’s third whereabouts failure in just a one-month window, but she challenged the charge with the AIU, and the organization didn’t proceed with the case. 

The April whereabouts failure was erased from her file, but the previous two from March remained, and after her missed test in early 2020, the AIU re-examined her case. Once again, though, Naser got off without much hassle, this time thanks to a loophole in the whereabouts failure system. This loophole is made possible because of how the two types of whereabouts failures are filed. Missed tests are filed the day of the infraction, but filing failures are backdated to the start of the quarter.

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Since Naser’s first whereabouts failure was a filing failure, it was backdated to the start of 2019, meaning her January 2020 missed test came more than a year after the first. She served a short suspension, but ultimately got off scot-free, which is when World Athletics and WADA took the case to the CAS. 

As reported by Reuters, CAS officials said their task was “never to pronounce whether or not the athlete is or was a ‘doping cheat,’ but only to decide whether she has been in breach of the … anti-doping rules as charged and to impose a suitable sanction in accordance with the rules.” The CAS panel said it found Naser’s approach to whereabouts requirements to be “inexcusably irresponsible,” which helped determine her ban. 

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“She attempted to escape the consequences of her actions by giving evidence which this panel found to be untruthful,” the panel said. “Such an approach from a top-level athlete is seriously undermining of the whole anti-doping program and is sanctioned accordingly.” Now banned for two years, Naser will miss the Tokyo Games and the 2022 world championships, and she has been stripped of any results dating back to November 25, 2019.