Olympic Champion Wins Doping Appeal

On Tuesday, two-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion Andrus Veerpalu won his appeal against a doping ban of three years despite the suspicion of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that he used human growth hormone.

The CAS upheld the appeal of the Estonian skier against the ban imposed on him by the International Ski Federation and cited “procedural flaws” that could have caused false positive test results. It said in a statement that the panel noted that there were many factors in this case which tend to indicate that Andrus Veerpalu did in fact himself administer exogenous human growth hormone. The three arbitrators of the court also stated their belief in the value of the HGH test that has traditionally been one of the hardest substances to detect in the fight against doping. The court also said the CAS arbitrators considered that the FIS had shown to their comfortable satisfaction that the HGH test is a reliable testing method for HGH abuse in professional sports that is based on scientifically correct assumptions and methods.

The court however remarked that FIS, the ski federation, failed to meet the applicable standard of proof that was essential to avoid the risk of having false positive’ tests. FIS said the 42-year-old skier tested positive for HGH in Estonia in January 2011 while preparing for the world championships the following month. Veerpalu won gold medals in the classical 15-kilometer races at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, and was also a two-time world champion.

Veerpalu said in a statement he is happy that justice has prevailed but added that the decision now would not make disappear what he has lived through during the last two years.

The sanction lifted by the CAS was intended to apply until February 23, 2014 – the final day of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The CAS panel endorsed the HGH test, which was performed on Veerpalu’s sample by a WADA-accredited laboratory in Cologne, Germany despite it ruling against the governing body of skiing.

The former and so far the most successful Estonian male cross country skier won his second Winter Olympics gold medal in 2006 and became the fourth Estonian to have won two Olympic gold medals (Kristjan Palusalu, Erika Salumäe and Kristina Šmigun-Vähi are the first three). Veerpalu is the most successful Olympic athlete from Estonia with three medals.

The skier announced his retirement from competition within weeks of his positive drug test and it is still not clear whether or not he decides to make a comeback. The CAS decision clears him to work in the sport as a coach or official, even if he does not plan to race again.

The National Football League’s players union last Tuesday said the decision highlighted its concerns about testing for human growth hormone in the most popular sport in the United States. The NFLPA said in a statement the NFL players for almost two years have fought the NFL and certain members of Congress who have publicly referred to the players’ insistence on scientific validity and fairness as `stalling’ and `posturing’ and this decision validates the players’ demand for scientific validity, full due process rights, and a transparent system.

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