Sakho doping case opens rift between UEFA and WADA

By Andrew Warshaw

April 21 – UEFA and the World anti-doping Agency have come to blows over French international Mamadou Sakho’s wrongly applied drugs ban last year.  

Sakho, Liverpool defender on loan at Crystal Palace, was forced to miss the latter stages of last summer’s European Championship finals as well the Europa league semi-final after being accused of taking an illegal substance.

He was banned for 30 days pending investigations, but under the shadow of the allegations has not since played for his country since.

Sakho tested positive for what is thought to be a type of fat burner after the Europa League win against Manchester United in March and technically could have been banned for months if not years.

But it was later demonstrated that the drug – a plant extract called higenamine – was not on any banned list, with UEFA arguing that Sakho’s sample would not have delivered a positive result had it been sent to a different laboratory.

“Higenamine is not expressly mentioned by name on Wada’s prohibited list,” stated a UEFA report. “It is clearly not possible for anyone, laboratory disciplinary body, football player or otherwise to know whether or not Higenamine is a prohibited substance by reading WADA’s prohibited list.

“The fact that the Cologne Laboratory tested for higenamine but had to check with WADA before making a determination indicates a problem, as does the fact that the Lausanne laboratory does not test for higenamine at all.

“The onus is clearly on WADA to communicate to its laboratories what is and what is not on the prohibited list. There are clearly gaps in communication with regard to higenamine, something which also tends to support the suggestion that WADA’s own internal procedure and analysis in respect of this substance is incomplete.”

The shambles will be of no consolation to Sakho, who missed out on a significant chunk of last season and could argue that his career has been unfairly harmed by an administrative snafu.

But WADA provided a very different interpretation.

“Higenamine has been considered prohibited ever since the 2004 Prohibited List, however it was expressly named [for the first time] on the 2017 List as an example of a selective and non-selective beta-2-agonist,” a spokesman said.

“With regards to the case of Mamadou Sakho, WADA, with the support of its List Expert Group, thoroughly reviewed the full case file along with recently published articles on higenamine.

“WADA supported the List Expert Group’s unanimous view that higenamine is a beta2-agonist and does indeed fall within the S3 class of the Prohibited List. It was decided, however, after careful review of the specific circumstances of the case, that WADA not lodge an appeal.”

“Whilst higenamine has been considered prohibited since 2004, its prevalence within dietary supplements has surfaced more recently.  Therefore, in early August 2016, WADA requested its network of accredited laboratories to implement systematic testing for higenamine; although, it is clear that some laboratories already conducted routine testing for higenamine before this date.”

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