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Doping authorities hit back at judge who ruled walker was framed

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and World Athletics on Thursday hit back in the dispute over a positive sample from Italian walker Alex Schwazer that an Italian judge last year ruled had been manipulated.

In a joint statement, WADA and the World Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) said reports they had commissioned showed the judge was “wrong” and his theory “implausible”.

Schwazer, the 2008 Olympic champion in the 50km walk, was suspended for eight years just before the 2016 Olympics for testing positive for anabolic steroids, but claimed he was the victim of foul play. 

The samples taken on January 1, 2016, had initially given negative results but a second analysis, the following May, revealed traces of doping products.

In February 2021, Walter Pelino, Investigating Judge in Bolzano, in Schwazer’s home province of South Tyrol, cleared the walker.

Pelino wrote he believed the samples “had been altered to obtain a positive result (in order to) obtain the disqualification and discredit the athlete.”

In their joint statement, WADA and the AIU said they had each commissioned reports from Swiss experts to address the suggestion that “the concentration of DNA in the Sample was too elevated to be physiological.” 

The AIU said it had asked the Forensic Genetics Unit in Lausanne to compare samples from male endurance athletes. 

“The results demonstrate conclusively that the DNA concentration in the Sample is well within the physiological range,” said the joint statement. “Therefore, the whole basis for the manipulation scenario…is wrong.”

WADA said that, at its “request anti-doping scientist Professor Martial Saugy from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland has reviewed the manipulation scenario.”

It said his report “establishes that the manipulation scenario devised by Judge Pelino is wholly implausible and that there is no analytical evidence of it.”

In a separate WADA statement, its director Olivier Niggli said: “It has always been WADA’s contention that the judge’s manipulation theory was not supported by the facts. The results of the DNA study and Professor Saugy’s review of the evidence confirm our position and fully refute Judge Pelino’s theory, which was predicated on a series of incorrect assumptions.” 

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected an appeal by Schwazer in 2016.

After that decision, a public prosecutor in Bolzano opened criminal proceedings against Schwazer. After the prosecutor dropped the case, Judge Pelino ruled that the sample must have been spiked.

The joint AIU and WADA statement said that neither they “nor the Cologne laboratory, nor anyone else involved with the doping control in this case, had any plausible motive for committing such an outrageous act.”

Schwazer, who is now 37, also tested positive, for EPO, before the London Games in July 2012. He admitted his guilt and was suspended three years and nine months.

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