Note to Athletes: It Matters If You Don’t Respect the Rules

October 31, 2014

Three recent sports law matters help prove an important point affecting all athletes: if the athlete does not cooperate in the sport’s adjudication process, it could have a significant impact on the severity of the punishment issued. 

 

In two matters handled recently by the firm, contrition and cooperation by the athletes played important roles in determining the penalties.  In contrast, the recent case of Lance Armstrong’s denial into a non-competitive bike ride in South Carolina shows the flipside and demonstrates the true effect of a non-cooperating athlete.

  

Failure to Plan Results in Doping Positive

In the firm’s first representation, the Olympic athlete client simply did not give enough respect to what was necessary to comply with the rules.  The athlete tested positive for a banned substance that the athlete was taking per a doctor’s prescription.  She disregarded the timeframe required for obtaining a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to use the medicine.  The administrative process for this can take several weeks, and the athlete waited until the last minute before her Sochi competition.  If the athlete had planned better, the TUE easily could have been granted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).  Instead, the athlete did not get the exemption in time for the major race of the season and had no excuse for the positive test in Russia.  

 

At the hearing in Europe, the athlete readily acknowledged that she failed to follow the administrative process for obtaining the TUE.  She apologized and asked for forgiveness to the hearing’s panel.

 

Poor Judgment Triggers a Rule Infraction

In the firm’s second matter, the athlete allegedly acted in violation of the rules of the sport’s national governing body.  The actions had nothing to do with the sport but were general ‘code of conduct’ issues.  The athlete disregarded the importance of the rules when making his life choices away from the field.

 

This athlete also quickly apologized for his actions.  Additionally, he made a point of becoming a role model on the team for the other players.

 

Lance Continues to Receive His Penalty

Contrast these cases with Lance Armstrong’s recent denial into a non-competitive bike ride in South Carolina.  Lance’s situation shows the true impact of a non-cooperating athlete. 

 

Participants in this ride included several athletes that also were named in USADA’s Reasoned Decision in 2012.  The main difference between these athletes and Lance is that the athletes cooperated with USADA and showed contrition, while Lance did not.  Their cooperation helped to secure relatively minor penalties.  Lance continues to serve a lifetime ban.  If Lance had cooperated with USADA during its investigation, he also might have secured a shorter suspension and would have ridden in the South Carolina event.

 

These cases demonstrate something pretty basic: athletes are really good at focus, dedication, and sacrifice for their sport.  The more of each, the better the results in the race.  However, if the athlete is not respectful of the system, cooperative in an adjudication process, and willing to help rectify the breach, then the governing body may have no interest in giving the benefit of the doubt or in mitigating the penalty.  While a better competitor might prevent an athlete from winning a race, failing to understand how a sport’s administrative process works can sideline an athlete entirely.

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