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EXCLUSIVE: Carlow footballer faces 4-year ban for positive meldonium test

Following an out of competition drug test at a training session on February 18th, conducted by th...

EXCLUSIVE: Carlow footballer f...

EXCLUSIVE: Carlow footballer faces 4-year ban for positive meldonium test

Following an out of competition drug test at a training session on February 18th, conducted by the Sport Ireland drug testers, Carlow footballer Ray Walker tested positive for meldonium. He now faces a ban of four years.

As is the usual process when testers attend a training session, his sample taken that night in February was split into A and B samples, and sent for analysis. At the end of March he was contacted by Sport Ireland to inform him that he had had an Adverse Analytical Finding in the A Sample, which had been confirmed by the WADA accredited lab in Cologne.

When notified of an AAF, GAA players have a right to respond in a number of different ways – they can admit the violation and appeal to Sport Ireland under certain criteria to have the ban reduced, or admit the violation and have a hearing before a GAA appointed committee or deny the violation and fight their case at a hearing of the GAA Hearings Committee.

The standard ban is four years and a successful appeal could reduce the ban to two years, but that path would have required proof that the ingestion had happened unwittingly.

By April 1st it was clear that Walker was going to accept the imposition of the four year ban. Sport Ireland have backdated Walker’s ban to the night his sample was taken, February 18th, and so his ban will lapse on midnight, February 18th 2024.

Questions will again be raised about the efficacy of the GAA’s education programme around anti-doping. Walker had left the panel for a number of years and had only recently returned to the group.

Was he immediately reminded upon return of his responsibilities and provided with the updated banned list of drugs for example? Given the fluid nature of GAA panels how efficient is the transfer of information?

This aspect of GAA life was sharply criticised in the findings of the 2015 GAA Anti-Doping Hearing Committe hearing into the failed test of Monaghan footballer Thomas Connolly:

“Not withstanding this finding the Committee is seriously concerned about the apparent lack of understanding and application of the anti-doping rules and processes at County Level in this case. Whilst we were impressed by the evidence of Messers McGill and Harvey in respect of anti-doping education at central level, we would urge the GAA to intensify its work to ensure that all players, county officers, coaches, managers, medical and allied sports science personnel and players representatives are fully cognisant of their obligations under the Association’s anti-doping rules”.

While recognising that ultimately all athletes bear responsibility for what is in their system, it is also responsible to ask if much has changed.

Then there is the drug in question, meldonium. This is the same drug as at the centre of the Maria Sharapova ban controversy.

More details on the Sharapova case can be found here. In essence, meldonium is used to treat angina and heart problems. The manufacturer's website says Meldonium gives sufferers of heart and circulatory conditions more "physical capacity and mental function" - and a similar boost to healthy individuals.

It was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list in January 2016. It had been on the organisation's monitoring programme throughout 2015.

A WADA spokesman said in 2016 that Meldonium was added to its prohibited list because of evidence athletes were using it "with the intention of enhancing performance". Studies have suggested the drug can increase a person's capacity for physical exertion.

Ray Walker, the GAA and WADA have until April 29th to the appeal the ban.

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Carlow Doping GAA Football Meldonium