Two UFC athletes, Walt Harris of the United States and Mairbek Taisumov of Austria, recently accepted sanctions for violations of the UFC's Anti-Doping Policy linked to use of contaminated supplements. In both cases, product labels contained no banned substances. However, testing by WADA-accredited labs confirmed the presence of anabolic agents. These fighters are not alone in being sanctioned as a result of contaminated supplements - others include Yoel Romero and Tim Means.
Accidental doping is not a new issue. In 2008, and just prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, swimmer Jessica Hardy was banned following a positive test - despite her best efforts to ensure her dietary supplement did not contain prohibited ingredients. Her sanction was subsequently reduced to one year and was followed by a lengthy lawsuit which ultimately settled.
Regulation has not kept up with the rise in supplement use
Studies have shown that 69-94% of elite athletes use dietary supplements as part of their training routine. But despite this widespread use, regulations of these substances have not developed much over the last decade. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, many countries do not follow strict enough rules in manufacturing and labeling to prevent inadvertent doping.
Showing of a contaminated substance helps - but doesn't eliminate sanctions
Under the UFC Anti-Doping Rules as well as the World Anti-Doping Code, evidence of contaminated supplements can help to reduce - but not eliminate - the severity of the penalty. Sanctions for inadvertent positive tests caused by contaminated supplements range from a reprimand to up to two years of ineligibility from competing. Walt Harris is banned from competing for four months, while Mairbek Taisumov faces 6 months of ineligibility. Had they been unable to prove what caused their positive tests, they would have faced possible sanctions of two years, while Olympic athletes can face possible sanctions of four years.
Proving that a positive test was caused by a contaminated supplement can not only lead to a significant reduction in sanction, but it can also help an athlete in rehabilitating his or her reputation. Other athletes - including swimmer Kicker Vencill, skier Hans Knauss, as well as fighters Yoel Romero and Tim Means - have also sued the supplement companies who they believed were responsible for their positive tests, to recoup lost earnings and to compensate them for the damage to their reputation. It is therefore critical that an athlete who faces an inadvertent positive test contact an experienced athlete's lawyer to help them navigate through the sanctions issues and to help them rebound from the reputational damage that comes from any positive test.