Sunday, March 7, 2021

Amantle Montsho ÔÇô April fool or cheat?

To most people, Amantle Montsho is either an innocent naive form three drop-out who unwittingly took a banned substance or a desperate aging athlete who doped in a bid to stay on top of her game. The truth, however probably lies somewhere in between.

On an uneventful day in April 2014, Botswana’s athletics champion left her home for Notwane pharmacy in Gaborone Main Mall. She bought a 750 grams powdery supplement called ‘EnduraPro’.

This workout supplement containing protein and amino acids, which fuels muscles during cardio exercises and also helps recovery after an intense workout routine is sold over the counter. Today it is also the difference between the golden girl who enthralled the world when she out of nowhere won the world 400 meter race and the disgraced athlete whose reputation has been sullied by doping claims.

The former 400 meters world champion had always used a supplement called ‘MorePower’. On the fateful April day she changed to EnduraPro following a recommendation from one Mr Martin, an employee at Notwane pharmacy who had been supplying her with supplements since 2011.

After buying the EnduraPro, Amantle carried out her own investigations on-line by comparing the ingredients list to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list. Ahead of the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Amantle went to train at the Dakar High Performance Centre in Senegal. Consistent with the centre’s policy, she consulted with her coach, Antony Coffi and physiotherapist, Gumbala Mamadou who both gave her the green light to use EnduraPro. However, Amantle did not take the supplement for laboratory testing as she didn’t know that it was possible to do so.

She continued taking the supplement until she underwent a routine test after the race on July 29th. Before that, she had undergone two other tests, one on 11th July at the Glasgow Diamond League and another out-of-competition test in Morocco on 20th July. She tested negative on both occasions. On July 30th, the report analysis from the commissioned anti-doping laboratory at King’s College London returned an adverse analytical finding that Amantle’s urine sample contained Methylhexaneamine (MHA), a prohibited specified substance under the current WADA prohibited list class S6 stimulants. She immediately opted for a second urine test, which also tested positive for MHA.

Amantle was disqualified from the Commonwealth Games and her competition results were nullified. BAA collected the supplements, drinks and other substances that she had been using and took them for testing at the University of the Free State laboratory. The tests confirmed that Amantle’s EnduraPro drink contained MHA.

On August 29th, BAA slapped Amantle with a provisional suspension and later summoned her for a hearing at Oasis Motel on 28th, 29th January and 5th February to answer to charges of anti doping violation contrary to Rule 32.2(a) of the IAAF competition rules of 2014-2015. She pleaded not guilty to the charge and raised an issue for determination on exceptional or special circumstances. The hearing was presided over by a disciplinary panel while the complainant, BAA was represented by attorney Reuben Lekorwe and BAA President Moses Bantsi. Tshiamo Rantao appeared in Amantle’s defence.

In his submissions before the disciplinary panel, Rantao said his client suspects that MHA entered into her body through the EnduraPro that she bought from Notwane pharmacy. He told the panel that Amantle had no previous knowledge of EnduraPro and she only bought it on the advice of Mr Martin, a trusted advisor who had been serving her for many years.

“Prior to the positive test in Glasgow my client had never tested positive for any prohibited drug. She even went further to conduct her own investigations on-line and by consulting her coach and physiotherapist. Her conviction that the MHA entered her body through EnduraPro was further reinforced by the University of Free State which found that the same bottle of EnduraPro contained MHA,” said Rantao in his submissions.

He added that Amantle never took the supplement for testing at an independent laboratory because she had never done so before. Besides, he said, she is a form three drop out and her knowledge of prohibited drugs was limited to the WADA prohibited list as she had never attended formal lessons on prohibited drugs.

“Therefore, having regard to the results from University of Free State, my client holds the view that in all probabilities, the prohibited substance entered her body through the supplement. It is not in dispute that EnduraPro does not have MHA as one of its ingredients. The question is not how MHA entered into the EnduraPro bottle, rather how it got into her body on a balance of probabilities,” said Rantao.

He added that Amantle had demonstrated that she did not take MHA knowingly and also demonstrated that she had no intention of taking the banned substance to enhance her performance. In any case, said Rantao, BAA has not called any witness to contradict Amantle’s version and she proved credible under cross examination. Rantao also cited a number of cases that took place at the Court of Arbitration for Sports to demonstrate that Amantle’s degree of fault was so low that she would even be entitled to a warning.

“Worse off athletes have obtained much lighter sanctions. We submit that the panel ought to find that there exist exceptional and/or special circumstances justifying referral to the Doping Review Board for determination,” submitted Rantao in conclusion.

In the end, the disciplinary panel found Amantle guilty of committing an anti-doping rule violation and maintained that there were no exceptional circumstances in her case. She was suspended for two years, dated from the day on which she was slapped with a provisional suspension. During the two year suspension, Amantle is prohibited from participating in any capacity in athletics competitions sanctioned by IAAF and its members. The judgment means Amantle can only return to the track in July 2016, at age 33 years.

The appeal was met with mixed reactions from various sports bodies. Even Moses Bantsi, President of BAA, was quoted on television saying the sentence was too harsh. Meanwhile the BAA and National Olympics Committee (NOC) are hamstrung from appealing on Amantle’s behalf because they are affiliates of IAAF and WADA. While Rantao is convinced that Amantle will be able to overturn the panel’s findings, the biggest obstacle lies in raising the US$20,000 (approx. P200, 000) needed to lodge an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for sports before the 30 day window elapses.

In an interview with Sunday Standard, Rantao said there are solid grounds for appeal. He dismissed the panel’s finding that mere speculation that a substance may have been contaminated or sabotaged is not sufficient to discharge Amantle’s burden as unfair.

“Contamination was never part of our defense. Amantle demonstrated how EnduraPro could have entered into her body and she was not disputed by BAA. The panel should not draw conclusions but use the evidence led by BAA,” he said.

Rantao added that Amantle also demonstrated that she never had any intention of enhancing her performance. Her submissions were also accepted by the panel which went further to express satisfaction with her efforts to exercise due diligence before using EnduraPro. The panel also accepted Amantle’s defense position that athletes are not expected to carry out their own testing of supplements before use.

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