Former Olympic, New Zealand triathlete Kris Gemmell, 37, has been banned from the sport for 15 months for an anti-doping violation. Kris Gemell finished 15th at the 2012 London Olympics, also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games. He retired from international competition after the World Cup grand final in Auckland late in 2012.
Gemmell has been suspended from sport for 15 months, though he never failed a drug test during his 17-year international triathlon career. Recently, Drug Free Sport New Zealand reported the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had banned Gemmell from participating in sport for 15 months for failing to comply with the athlete-whereabouts programme.
The whereabouts programme is used by anti-doping organisations worldwide and requires athletes to regularly log details of their whereabouts so that they can be located at any time for “surprise” drug testing. The case was initially dismissed by the New Zealand Sports Tribunal in February this year, but Drug Free Sport New Zealand successfully appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which has its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The International Court of Arbitration for Sport backed the steps Drug Free Sport New Zealand took in relation to Gemmell's rule violation, releasing a judgement in which it banned the former triathlete from sport for 15 months.
Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel says the CAS decision is important because it clarifies the rules around the whereabouts programme.
“The Court notes that the whereabouts programme is a ‘powerful and effective means of deterring and detecting doping in sport’. The ruling confirms that the surprise nature of drug testing that
the whereabouts programme allows is important and that Drug Free Sport NZ is right not to give athletes advance notice of testing by telephoning them.” Top level athletes involved in the
whereabouts programme need to specify a one-hour timeslot each day in which they will be available for drug testing. Under the current rules, if they fail to correctly record their whereabouts or
miss a test three times in the space of 18-months it is considered an anti-doping rule violation.
During the 15 months of his transgressions it is understood Gemmell was tested many times and the tests were always negative. The breaches happened on August 27, 2012, when he was still competing
and on July 16, 2013 and September 13, 2013, when he had retired from triathlon. Because he still had a desire to compete, he chose not to leave the testing programme. Drug Free Sport NZ
argued that Gemmell had missed two tests and filed incorrect information on another occasion within an 18-month period. The New Zealand Sports Tribunal dismissed the case saying the first missed
test should not be counted because “reasonable” steps were not taken to locate Mr. Gemmell, namely telephoning him to let him know that an official was at his nominated location to test him. But
the CAS did not agree with the New Zealand Sports Tribunal and Drug Free Sport NZ were pleased to have the procedures outlined for both anti-doping organisations and athletes.
The CAS ruling detailed Gemmell's three missed tests. In the first, Gemmell had flown from Sweden to Colorado and was asleep when the testers visited the house that night. He was in a bedroom in
the basement, farthest from the front door. The second missed test last year was when Gemmell said he would be in New Zealand or the United States between July 16 and 22, but was in Hamburg,
Germany. He didn't notify them, but said on Twitter he was in Germany. The third missed test was when Gemmell was in London but was called in to work and also discovered his father was in
hospital. "In those circumstances the athlete was upset and under pressure and simply failed to update his whereabouts information. There was some excuse for the first and third missed tests, but
the second one was inexcusable", the ruling said.
"A telephone call to notify an athlete that a doping control official is present gives those who dope the time and opportunity to alter the integrity of their sample if they so choose. This goes
against the very purpose of surprise testing." CAS also noted that athletes have a "legal obligation" to be available and present at the time they’ve specified for testing.
Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel says this is a timely reminder for New Zealand athletes who are involved in the whereabouts programme. “Anti-doping organisations obviously have an
obligation to follow the correct procedures and we’re pleased this ruling from CAS has clarified those, but it’s also highlighted the obligations of athletes to not only file correct whereabouts
information, but to make sure they’re available for testing when they say they will be.”
The Court of Arbitration for Sport notes that Gemmell's case isn't one of an athlete deliberately trying to avoid or circumvent the testing regime, and imposed a lesser ban than the two-year maximum due to mitigating circumstances.
Ironically or not, Kris Gemmell is on the International Triathlon Union's (ITU) athletes committee and is the athletes' representative on the ITU executive board. He is the ITU's global head of partnerships for the world triathlon series, a 10-race series staged around the world for the sport's elite triathletes and he also helped draft testing procedures. Athletes had to specify where they were for an hour on a particular day and had to be there, no excuses. It's unclear how the ban will affect this area of his involvement in the sport, although Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel said the ban extended beyond the competitive field. It might affect his employment with the International Triathlon Union, although his suspension backdated to February means it will expire on May 12. In the end, because Gemmell's 15-month period of ineligibility is backdated from February 12, 2014, it means he's on the outer for just another five months.
Without any doubts, Kriss Gemmell has done plenty of work with the triathlon sport over the years and especially with his local Manawatu Triathlon Club. He still goes to triathlon events when he
is at home and he's a great role model for the young athletes coming up wanting to aspire to his elite level in sport.
A full copy of the CAS decision is available here.
Decision of the New Zealand Sports Tribunal in the case "Drug Free Sport New Zealand v Kris Gemmell" is available here.
About the Athlete Whereabouts Programme:
- Drug Free Sport NZ, in keeping with international requirements, has a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) of elite athletes who must provide whereabouts information and be available for a drug test at any time. Drug Free Sport’s RTP currently consists of approximately 40 athletes.
- Athletes who are in the RTP must log whereabouts information with Drug Free Sport NZ quarterly.
- The information athletes must make available includes details of where they are living and training, a competition schedule, a training schedule and any travel plans.
- RTP athletes must also specify a 60-minute time slot during which they will be available for testing at a specified location each day, if required. The athlete must be available and accessible for testing at the location and time they have specified.
- Athletes can update their whereabouts information via the Drug Free Sport NZ website, text, email and telephone at any time.
- The whereabouts system is used by all anti-doping organisations around the world as required by the World Anti-Doping Code.
- Athletes in the RTP who either fail to file accurate whereabouts or are not available for testing during their 60-minute time slot are deemed to have committed a “strike”. Three strikes within an 18 month period constitutes an anti-doping rule violation.
- If found guilty of a whereabouts violation, an athlete can be banned from sport for a period of up to two years.
- Athletes wishing to retire whilst assigned to the RTP may do so (and will no longer have to provide whereabouts information). This must be done formally and means they cannot return to high level competition without a six month stand down period.
Changes to the Sports Anti-Doping Rules 2015:
- In 2015 the rules relating to the RTP will change so that strikes can only be accumulated over a 12-month period, rather than an 18-month period.
- Athletes who are serving sanctions for a violation for three whereabouts failures over 18-months may apply to the Sports Tribunal for the remaining part of their sanction to be lifted from January 1, 2015.
The applicable proccess for Hearings and Appeals:
- Under New Zealand’s Sports Anti-Doping Rules, Drug Free Sport NZ must take a case to a Tribunal, either the New Zealand Sports Tribunal or one convened by an individual sport. The vast majority of New Zealand Sporting Organisations (such as Triathlon NZ) provide for matters to be referred to the New Zealand Sports Tribunal.
- A decision of the New Zealand Sports Tribunal is binding, but can be appealed by Drug Free Sport NZ; the athlete or other person who is the subject of the decision; the relevant International Federation; or the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
- All appeals under the New Zealand Sports Anti-Doping Rules are made to the Swiss based Court of Arbitration for Sport which is the final appellant body under the WADA Code (except where matters of Swiss law may apply).