Tokyo Olympic place lost after rider unknowingly used teabag containing cocaine

  • The Canadian showjumping team’s place at the Tokyo Olympics has not been reinstated, despite the fact a rider who failed a dope test had unintentionally ingested cocaine in a teabag taken from her hotel.

    The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Nicole Walker’s team results at the 2019 Pan Am Games remain disqualified, meaning the team loses its fourth place, and its place at the Tokyo Games.

    H&H has reported on the case of Nicole, who tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in a sample taken on 7 August at the games, and was provisionally suspended by the FEI. In December that year, in a PanAm Sports disciplinary hearing, Nicole’s results from the team competition were disqualified, dropping the team’s place to seventh.

    Nicole said throughout that she never takes any illicit drugs, and is “always fully aware of the possibility of being tested and would never expose myself to any substance that could test positive”.

    But in January, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed the appeal of Nicole and Equestrian Canada (EC). In an arbitral award, released this week, the CAS panel said it accepted Nicole had not intentionally ingested cocaine at “any relevant time” on or before 7 August 2019, or done so unintentionally at any time before that date.

    The court accepted that the positive sample was “the result, and only the result of, the unintentional ingestion of cocaine by Ms Walker on the morning of 7 August 2019 as a result of her using a teabag containing cocaine, which she took from the breakfast service area of the Los Incas Lima Hotel”.

    The panel had heard that Nicole had brought eight teabags of her favourite green tea to the Games, as she was to be there eight days. But as it was colder than she had expected, she drank more tea, and so ran out. On the morning of 7 August, she chose what she thought was a green teabag from the hotel’s breakfast area. She does not speak Spanish so did not know that the word “coca” — the tea was described as “matte de coca” — means cocaine.

    It became apparent during the hearing that tea containing cocaine is “readily available” in Peru, but no warning to this effect had been issued to Nicole, by the games organisers or Team Canada officials.

    CAS said that Ms Walker “assumed such tea would be illegal in Peru, as it was in Canada or other places she had visited”. She also wrongly believed, as did other witnesses associated with Team Canada, that the hotel was an official Games hotel, so no food or drink containing prohibited substances would be available there.

    Continues below…

    In a statement, EC said: “EC is firmly committed to clean sport and recognises the breach in the PanAm Sports anti-doping rules during the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. We also believe in fully supporting our athletes through the execution of those rules with fairness and technical precision.

    “EC is pleased that the CAS panel accepted that Nicole innocently drank a cup of coca tea, believing it to be green tea. EC is further pleased that CAS found that the Canadian showjumping team was not warned about the prevalence of coca-based products in Peru and that neither the [team] nor Nicole had any knowledge that coca meant cocaine.

    “However, EC is extremely disappointed that despite the panel’s recognition of Nicole’s integrity and commitment to clean sport, her affected results at Lima 2019 were not reinstated, resulting in the Canadian showjumping team remaining disqualified from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

    “EC has stood by Nicole throughout the discipline and appeals process and together, we will explore the option of appealing the CAS decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal in Lausanne, Switzerland.”

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade to access our H&H Plus online service which brings you breaking news as it happens as well as other benefits.

    You may like...