Steve Guerdat and Alessandra Bichsel cleared of wrongdoing by FEI
Swiss Jumping riders Steve Guerdat and Alessandra Bichsel, whose horses tested positive for Prohibited Substances earlier this year, have been cleared of any wrongdoing following separate legal agreements with the FEI. The agreements, in which the FEI accepts that the positives were caused by poppy seed contamination, have been independently approved by the FEI Tribunal.
Under the terms of the agreements, there are no sanctions against either Guerdat or Bichsel other than the automatic disqualification of the horses’ results at the events where they tested positive in accordance with Article 9 and Article 10.1.4 of the FEI Equine Anti-Doping (EAD) Rules.
Samples taken from the horse Nino des Buissonnets, ridden by Guerdat, at the La Baule CSIO5* in France on 17 May returned positive for the banned substances Codeine and Oripavine and the controlled medication substance Morphine. Samples taken from the horse Nasa (FEI ID FRA45675), also ridden by Guerdat, at the same event on 16 May returned positive for the banned substance Codeine and the controlled medication substance Morphine. The sample from Nasa also showed traces of Oripavine, but not at a sufficiently high level for the testing laboratory to declare a positive.
Samples taken from the horse Charivari KG (FEI ID 102ZB26), ridden by Bichsel, at the CSIOY (Young Riders) in Deauville (FRA) on 8 May also returned positive for the same three substances, Codeine, Oripavine and Morphine.
The two athletes, Guerdat and Bichsel, were notified of the positives by the FEI on 20 July and were both provisionally suspended. The three horses were also provisionally suspended for a two-month period.
The FEI Secretary General Sabrina Zeender acknowledged in July that the three positives were probably the result of contamination, but that standard procedure still had to be followed.
The FEI Tribunal agreed to lift the provisional suspensions on the two athletes on 27 July, but requests for the lifting of the provisional suspensions on the horses were denied. The two-month provisional suspensions imposed on the horses expired on 19 September.
Both Guerdat and Bichsel had used the same feed supplier, and independent laboratory tests have proved that the feed was contaminated with poppy seeds. The FEI accepts that the circumstances of the cases were exceptional and that the presence of the three prohibited substances in the horses’ samples is consistent with poppy seed contamination.
The FEI also accepts that the two athletes have demonstrated that they bear no fault or negligence and have also established how the Banned Substances entered the horses’ systems, the two requirements under the FEI Equine Anti-Doping (EAD) Rules in order to have the two-year period of ineligibility and other sanctions eliminated.
Under the terms of the two agreements, neither of the athletes was required to appear before the FEI Tribunal for a hearing. However, the panel of FEI Tribunal Chair Erik Elstad (NOR), Pierre Ketterer (FRA) and Henrik Arle (FIN) was called upon to give its formal approval of the agreements in accordance with the Article 7.6.1 of the FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs).
The FEI Tribunal’s Final Decision states that it can find “no grounds to object to or disapprove the terms of the Agreement and is satisfied the Agreement constitutes a bona fide settlement” of the three cases. The cases are now closed.
“Both these athletes and the Swiss National Federation have worked in full cooperation with the FEI to secure these landmark agreements and it’s good to know that since the beginning of this year the FEI processes can facilitate such settlements so that athletes are able to clear their names when contamination is involved”, the FEI Secretary General said.
“Steve Guerdat and Alessandra Bichsel fully accepted that standard procedures had to be followed, but were able to provide proof that the positives were due to contamination, which meant that we could reach a settlement that was acceptable to both the FEI and to the FEI Tribunal.”
The agreements were reached in accordance with Article 7.6.1 of the EADCMRs, which was implemented on 1 January 2015 following approval at the 2014 FEI General Assembly. The provision, in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations, allows for an agreement between the Person Responsible and the FEI, and the agreements with Guerdat and Bichsel mark the first time that such a settlement has been reached under the new provision.
The Final Decisions for the consolidated cases of the two horses Nino des Buissonnets and Nasa is available here, and the Final Decision for the horse Charivari KG is here.
The FEI has proposed that certain substances on the FEI Equine Prohibited Substances List should be classified as “Specified Substances” in a similar approach to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. The proposed introduction of the “Specified Substances” category is the result of a lengthy consultation process involving both the FEI Veterinary Committee and the FEI List Group. The FEI Bureau agreed during its in-person meeting on 9 June this year to put the proposal to the vote at the General Assembly.
The substances that will be classified as Specified Substances will be determined by the FEI List Group together with the FEI Laboratory Group. The purpose is to recognise that it is possible for a substance to enter a horse’s system inadvertently, and the proposed Specified Substances approach would allow the FEI and/or the FEI Tribunal more flexibility when prosecuting a case or when deciding on sanctions.
The Specified Substances approach will be voted on by the National Federations at the FEI General Assembly in Puerto Rico in November 2015.
Specified Substances are not necessarily less serious agents than other Prohibited Substances, and nor do they relieve the Personal Responsible (PR) of the strict liability rule that makes them responsible for all substances that enter a Horse’s system. However, there is a greater likelihood that these substances could be susceptible to a credible non-doping explanation.