Volume: 7 Issue: 12
Speed skater Claudia Pechstein has been granted clearance to compete until the Swiss Federal Court hears her appeal against the Court of Arbitration of Sport's (CAS) 25 November confirmation of a two-year ban, imposed by the International Skating Union (ISU) using blood profiling. The case could call into question the use of blood profiling under the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Athlete Biological Passport to ban athletes. It is the first time that an athlete has been banned for blood doping using blood profiling only.
Pechstein was prosecuted by the ISU under art. 2.2 of its Anti-Doping Regulations after samples of her blood taken during the ISU Speed Skating Championships showed reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) at 3.49%, 3.54% and 3.38%, returning to 1.37% ten days after the event. Although these readings were above the ISU's permitted 2.4% value, Pechstein had not failed any other anti-doping test and said the readings were due to a blood disease and are unreliable.
Klaas Faber, founder of Chemometry Consultancy, questioned the logic in assuming Pechstein's guilt based on blood profiling in a 13 October Expert Opinion. "One can prosecute on the basis of indirect evidence (blood profiling), but one should not be allowed to do this", he said. "The biological passport is always presented as a forensic approach, but it is definitely not meeting established forensic standards. The evidence is simply not complete. In the Pechstein case, the decision criterion for deciding 'abnormal' was associated with 95% certainty instead of 99.9%, the value always mentioned in the context of the passport [Annex D2 of WADA's Athlete Biological Passport Operating Guidelines]".
Mike Morgan, a Solicitor with Hammonds LLP, acknowledges that use of blood profiling to ban athletes may prove controversial. "The difficulty some critics may have is that there is no positive test. The decision to ban an athlete rests on a method of detection subject to relatively numerous variables, some of which may not be fully understood yet".
On 2 December, WADA introduced 'Harmonized Protocols and Guidelines for Athlete Biological Passport'. It has yet to decide if it will make use of the Passport compulsory. "To say there are plans in place, or to say there are no plans would be wrong", said David Howman, WADA's Director General. "We will have to see how it progresses and how it benefits the clean athlete as well".