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Volume: 11 Issue: 5
(May 2013)

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Vijay Singh sues PGA Tour over ban for use of ‘deer antler spray’

Vijay Singh has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the PGA Tour for its ‘reckless administration and implementation of its Anti-Doping Programme’, after it suspended the Fijian golfer for use of ‘deer antler spray’. The lawsuit, filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York on 8 May, lists seven claims for relief against the PGA Tour for ‘violating its duty of care and good faith’.

The lawsuit claims that the PGA was negligent in its analysis, failing to prove that the IGF-1 substance in the spray was the same as the IGF-1 banned under the World Anti-Doping Code’s Prohibited List. It claims that the IGF-1 in the spray was ‘biologically inactive’ and did not fit the definition of banned growth hormones under the PGA Tour’s own anti-doping rules, which have been adapted from the World Anti-Doping Code to suit golf.

“Singh purchased deer antler spray from a company called ‘Sports with Alternatives to Steroids’”, said Stacey Shevill, an Associate with Squire Sanders. “He then repeatedly sprayed this into his mouth and is quoted as saying he was “looking forward to some change in [his] body”. The spray contained IGF-1, which was identified as an ingredient of the spray on the company’s website. On the face of it, Singh appears to have lacked the caution that might be expected of a professional athlete. But it seems the application of the anti-doping rules has worked in his favour. Now we must wait to see whether these rules can really be used by an athlete as a sword, rather than a shield.”

On 19 February 2013, the PGA Tour suspended Singh for 90 days and held his earnings in escrow during the appeal process (7 February until 14 April). The lawsuit alleges that Singh was denied earnings of $99,980 during this period. The PGA Tour dropped its case against Singh ahead of an arbitration hearing scheduled for 7 May. 'WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results', read a 30 April PGA Tour press release. 'Based on this new information, and given WADA's lead role in interpreting the Prohibited List, the Tour deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr. Singh's use of deer antler spray as a violation of the Tour's anti-doping program.'

Singh's lawsuit alleges that ‘the PGA Tour knew, or otherwise ignored, basic and readily available scientific information that the misnamed IGF-1 found in the spray is not a substance that the Anti-Doping Program bans’, as ‘IGF-1 can only be introduced into the body through injection’. However, the PGA Tour release states 'Mr. Singh should have contacted the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program Administrator or other resources readily available to players in order to verify that the product Mr. Singh was about to utilize did not contain any prohibited substances, especially in light of the warning issued in August 2011 in relation to deer antler spray'.

Although Singh said that he checked the bottle for banned substances, Sports with Alternatives to Steroids’ website does list IGF-1 as one of the substances present in the spray. The lawsuit states that the spray was recommended to Singh to address knee and back problems. It alleges other golfers, such as Mark Calcavecchia, were simply told by the PGA Tour to stop using the spray. Under the ‘strict liability’ principles established in Article 2.1 of the World Anti-Doping Code, athletes are liable for substances found in their body. 'The PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program clearly states that players are responsible for use of a prohibited substance regardless of intent', read the 30 April release.

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