Be ready for WADA tests
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Gilas players who are seeing action against Qatar on Feb. 21 and Kazakhstan on Feb. 24 in the sixth window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers should be forewarned that random drug testing will be done after both games. That means they must be briefed as to what types of energy drink or food supplements are acceptable by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to avoid getting suspended for consuming something prohibited with no intent to take illegal substances.

The case of Kiefer Ravena is a lesson to all athletes. He unknowingly took a pre-workout drink called DUST which was passed on by a teammate from a dietary supplement store. In an investigation, FIBA president of the Disciplinary Board Eleonora Rangelova determined that DUST “helped maintain and recovery energy but the player had no idea it contained banned or illegal substances since it was readily available to the general public.” Ravena tested positive for prohibited stimulants contained in DUST after urine samples were extracted after he played against Japan in the second window of the World Cup Qualifiers last Feb. 25. 

Ignorance of the law could not absolve Ravena from FIBA meting out the harsh penalty of suspension. In FIBA’s policy on anti-doping violations, it states that “each athlete’s personal duty (is) to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his or her body … athletes are responsible for any prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers found to be present in their samples … accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing use on the athlete’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an anti-doping violation.”

Rangelova said Ravena didn’t know DUST contained banned stimulants. “The player had not received any formal anti-doping education but had learned a very valuable lesson through this experience,” said Rangelova. “The player regrets unintentionally violating the FIBA anti-doping rules.” Rangelova noted that since the testing, Ravena has been subjected to similar urinalysis twice by the SBP and turned out negative.

The period of FIBA suspension for an anti-doping violation is usually between two to four years. But in Ravena’s case, FIBA set the suspension for 18 months. Effectively, the suspension was for 15 months since the clock started ticking from when the samples were extracted, not from when the decision was made by FIBA. Ravena’s cooperation and background were considered by FIBA in reducing the period of suspension.

The SBP and Ravena’s PBA team NLEX collaborated to make an appeal for FIBA to cut the period of suspension even more. The hope was for FIBA to end the suspension on Feb. 24 to make it a period of one year. But it appears FIBA has declined to make a decision one way or the other on Ravena’s suspension, leaving the matter up to WADA. The samples were examined at the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal. 

“It’s really a WADA decision,” said SBP president Al Panlilio. “FIBA represented our appeal to WADA but of course, WADA had to decide with a global view.” Without agreeing to an exemption or even a concession, WADA has supposedly shut the door on cutting Ravena’s suspension.  Deciding the issue on a bookish procedure without looking into Ravena’s situation as a victim not a perpetrator is unfair. WADA is a testing agency whose findings are made available to requesting parties. FIBA, more than WADA, is in a position to determine Ravena’s impact on the game as a player and as a person. Instead of passing the ball to WADA, FIBA should’ve taken a firm stand whether or not to uphold SBP’s appeal.

The suspension on Ravena is not only harsh but also painful. Ravena is at the peak of his career yet is prohibited from participating in any basketball-related activity so he’s not even able to teach basketball to kids or watch a game in the stands.  Ravena is not allowed to join NLEX in any practice. FIBA has determined that Ravena did not deliberately take stimulants to enhance his performance in a game. Surely, with that determination, FIBA could be a little more lenient in throwing the book at Ravena. A one-year suspension would be appropriate. Anything more would be inhuman. FIBA should try to reach out to WADA and explain Ravena’s personal circumstances. FIBA said the suspension will end on Aug. 24. Couldn’t that be moved backward to avoid inflicting more pain on an innocent victim?

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