26 July 2022
Earlier this year, Sharks and Springbok hooker Chiliboy Ralapelle tested positive for a banned substance for the third time in his career. After his B-sample was tested and returned the same finding as his A-sample the substance in question was confirmed as that of Zeranol.
Zeranol is a synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen related to mycoestrogens found in fungi and is used mainly as an anabolic agent in veterinary medicine. Simply put, it helps cows grow bigger faster. It is also a banned substance (non-specified) contained in S1.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agencies 2019 Prohibited List.
For a little context into the doping testing procedure and to better understand what both A and B samples are; I’ll briefly explain the process. During an athlete’s sample collection process, the athlete divides his sample into an A-sample container and a B-sample container and seals both. Upon receipt of the athlete’s A and B samples at the laboratory for testing, only the A-sample’s seal is broken and the sample is then analysed for banned substances while the B sample remains on ice should it be required for later testing. When the presence of a banned substance is identified in the A-sample, the athlete is notified and is afforded the option of (1) accepting the result based on his A-sample finding or (2) having the B-sample analysed to confirm or invalidate the A-sample result, which isn’t cheap if I might add.
In this case, Ralepelle exercised his right to have his B-sample analysed and the result came back confirming the presence of the banned substance resulting in an adverse analytical finding.
Not much has been made of this finding by the media despite speculations as to his doping history and the matter seems to have gone dormant since early April. As a small disclaimer, the purpose of this piece is not to make accusations or assumptions as to any aspect of the pending case. The focus of this piece is to bring to light the potential risks associated with contamination of products that an athlete may ingest, be it from food products, supplements or in fact any substance that he or she consumes.
The World Anti-Doping agency (WADA) has very strict rules when it comes to substances ingested by an athlete and I say ‘ingest’ because the rules do not require that an athlete intentionally consumed a certain product. This is where the strict liability rule in the Code comes to the fore. The principle of strict liability is applied in situations where samples collected from an athlete have produced adverse analytical results. What this basically means is that an athlete is strictly liable for the substances found in his or her bodily specimen and that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in such athletes bodily specimen, whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault.
In terms of Article 10 of the WADA Code, the athlete has the possibility to avoid or reduce sanctions if he or she can establish to the satisfaction of the tribunal how the substance entered his or her system, demonstrate that he or she was not at fault or significant fault and did not intend to enhance his or her sport performance. Essentially the burden of proof is placed fully on the athlete to prove that the substance ingested was not done so with the intention to ‘cheat’ or was done so in a negligent manner.
In the case of Chiliboy, the presence of Zeranol in his bodily specimen that returned the adverse finding, points to possible food contamination. The reason why this can even be raised as a defence is due the findings of the US Anti-Doping agency (USADA) in a doping case before them recently where an athlete was able to prove the presence of Zeranol, that resulted in the adverse finding, was as a result of a ‘contaminated meat product’ and accordingly the finding of the doping panel was that of no significant fault or negligence.
Zeranol is used by veterinarians as a legal growth promotant and although approved for use in livestock in the United States, it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use. Due to its growth promoting and presumed anabolic effects in humans, Zeranol appears on the WADA Prohibited List classified under S1.2 “Other Anabolic Agents”. For more than 15 years, it has been tested for in routine doping control analysis. Zeranol is also utilised in the South African farming industry and in fact is permitted and controlled by the Department of Agriculture, which means that products and usage levels are known and residues can be monitored.
Despite these regulations and assurances by the FDA and SA government organisations, that meat products being consumed are safe to eat and do not contain hormones and substances such as Zeranol (in quantities that warrant concern), cases of Zeranol contamination have cropped up over time and there have been a number of cases, most predominantly in the US where athletes have tested positive for Zeranol and claim contamination as a defence.
As stated at the beginning of this article, not much information has been released about Chiliboy’s case since early April and it remains to be seen what the result will be of his finding. Once receiving the result of the B-sample finding, Ralepelle would have been afforded the option of accepting the result and offering a guilty plea or submitting a plea for consideration of a reduced sanction by providing mitigating circumstances.
If Ralepelle opted to contest the sample result, a hearing of an independent tribunal panel will be convened by the South African Institute for Drug Free Sports (SAIDS), to adjudicate over the proceeding and hand down a decision. Given the time passed since the adverse finding I would be willing to bet that Chiliboy made the decision to challenge the finding.
I would be very interested to hear what defence is raised by Chiliboy’s legal team and what evidence they use to highlight the potential risks associated with Zeranol contamination, hormone contamination of meat in general and how they will satisfy the panel as to his lack of negligence. There have been many interesting case studies into Zeranol and hormone contamination that warrant a whole new and more complex article in the future.
Despite the impending result of the hearing and even if Chiliboy walked out of this ordeal without a significant ban, the reputational damage associated with a doping case and the attention it brings is something that he will unfortunately carry with him for the rest of his career. This being his third run in with doping authorities, I fear his career will forever be marred by his association with doping matters even though he was cleared of all wrongdoing in the last doping scandal where SA Rugby was found at fault.
This is the hidden cost associated with doping in modern sport and an issue I deal with regularly with clients of ours in doping cases; even if they are cleared from any wrongdoing, just being associated with a doping case does irreparable damage to their reputation and image. That is why our work at Javelin Sports Consulting is so important to us and why we focus a lot of time and energy on anti-doping education because in sport you only have one reputation and no-one wants to be labelled the doper or cheater no matter what the truth may actually be.
Sports Lawyer - Director Javelin Sports Consulting
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Furthermore, I am not associated at all with Chiliboy’s legal team and have not been made aware of any information pertaining to his case. All information contained in this piece is information that is readily available to the public after a little research.