By John Stevenson
Australian cyclist Mark French has been cleared on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. French was banned for two years in 2004 after an earlier hearing found that he had used and trafficked in prohibited substances, corticosteroid (allegedly contained in a supplement preparation called Testicomp) and equine growth hormone (eGH).
The CAS today released its findings from a hearing on May 19, 20 and 21. Terminating French's two-year ban and ordering the return of the $1,000 fine imposed by a previous hearing, the CAS found that there was no scientific evidence that the Testicomp French had admitted to using contained a prohibited substance; and insufficient evidence "to conclude to the necessary degree of satisfaction that the knowing use of eGH has been proven."
In its highly-detailed, 24 page ruling, the CAS points to two major problems with the case against French. The allegation that French used corticosteroids by injecting Testicomp fails because there is no scientific evidence that Testicomp contains corticosteroid. Testicomp is a homeopathic supplement, which is claimed on its accompanying literature to contain corticosteroid, but analysis of Testicomp failed to find corticosteroids in the product. "An admission to use of Testicomp does not amount to an admission that there has been use of a prohibited substrance unless the product used is shown by chemical analysis to contain that which it purports to contain by its product leaflet," says the judgment.
Regarding the accusation of use and trafficking in eGH, the ruling finds problems with what would in a criminal case be termed the chain of custody of the waste bucket found in French's room. Other riders at the AIS facility in Adelaide had access to French's room and therefore "we cannot conclude that there is sufficient evidence to to lead to a conclusion that use of eGH by French is proven."
The ruling then addresses the DNA evidence against French, concluding that the DNA recovered from a needle in the waste bucket and alleged to have been French's may have come from another source.
Similar problems with the evidence and chain of custody issues caused the CAS to find that it was not proven that French had been involved in trafficking eGH.
French's appeal did not directly address the lifetime ban from Olympic competition that he received as a result of being found to have trafficked in prohibited substances. However, the decision does clear the way for French to compete internationally once again as the Olympic ban will be lifted. "Under the AOC's anti-doping policy that follows automatically," AOC spokesman Mike Tancred told AAP.
The French case led to one of the biggest media storms ever to accompany a doping allegation in Australian sport, which in turn raised concerns that investigators, politicians and the media were trampling the rights of French and other cyclists implicated by him in their enthusiasm to appear tough on drugs in sport.