He's been herd: Robert Farah cleared of anti-doping violation by ITF

He's been herd: Robert Farah cleared of anti-doping violation by ITF

The doubles world No. 1 is eligible to return to the ATP tour effective immediately after an investigation determined contaminated meat was a plausible cause of his failed test.

Robert Farah, the ATP’s No. 1-ranked doubles player, has been reinstated with immediate effect after an investigation found his explanation of contaminated meat resulting in an anti-doping violation to be credible. The ITF’s findings, which were released Monday, determined the 33-year-old bore No Fault or Negligence with the violation, which mandates a player’s ineligibility should be eliminated entirely.

Farah was charged on January 11 and provisionally suspended 10 days later after a urine sample taken out of competition on October 17, 2019 was found to contain boldenone and its metabolite. The winner of Wimbledon and the US Open last season with Juan Sebastian Cabal, Farah contested the “boldenone found in his system came from beef that he ate the night before sample 3143779 was collected, which he says contained residue of boldenone injected into the cow as a growth promoter prior to slaughter.”

The laboratory found boldenone in Farah’s sample at an estimated concentration of 1.2 ng/mL, as well as a metabolite of boldenone at an estimated concentration of 1.8 ng/mL. Those levels are classified as Atypical Findings unless analysis could conclusively establish the origins of the substance are exogenous, which in Farah’s case, they were and thus reported as an Adverse Analytical Finding.

As a result, a mandatory provisional suspension was invoked on January 21 and Farah had the burden of not only proving the violation was not intentional but also establish that meat contamination “was more likely than not the source” of boldenone. Among the evidence Farah presented included two prior urine samples in October that showed zero traces of prohibited substances. He demonstrated he was in Cali, Colombia on October 16 and 17 visiting his mother, and enjoyed a home cooked meal with his fiancée and family friend.

Arguably most critical to Farah’s case of innocence was the chain of custody for the meat he ingested. His mother provided a sworn statement about purchasing solomillo (sirloin) at a known supermarket chain in her hometown on October 15. A senior manager of food acquisition at the supermarket had a purchase record through her customer identification card number that 1.006 kilograms of silomillo beef was among the items obtained. The supermarket also provided records of where the meat was sourced from, a processing plant in northern Colombia with 15 cattle ranches.

The Colombian government was brought into the fold, too. A senior official overseeing agriculture and rural development asserted boldenone is not only permitted to be used on cattle and that 59 products containing the steroid are commercially available, but that farmers in the region of the 15 cattle ranches have used boldenone as a means to increase mass and fat. Among the additional sworn statements and reports included a senior representative of Colombian cattle trade, along with a cattle farmer in the region (not from one of the 15 ranches), providing testimony illustrating the likelihood of boldenone originating from the meat sold at the supermarket.

Farah was later required to provide a detailed schedule of all the supplements he took between March and October 2019, along with receipts. None included boldenone or a precursor on the list of ingredients and in the 10 times he was tested during that period, all were clean, furthering the likelihood that boldenone was not a contaminant of the supplements.

With all of the evidence presented, the ITF ultimately accepted Farah did not ingest boldenone intentionally, nor did he know the meat his mother cooked contained the substance. The Colombian Olympic Committee first issued a warning to its athletes in November 2018 about the link between boldenone and Colombian farms, but the ITF “accepted” that Farah does not reside in Colombia and travels globally throughout the year, therefore determining there was no duty of “utmost caution” required when eating the meat cooked by his mother.     

Farah and Cabal last played together at the 2019 ATP Finals in London, where they reached the semifinals. Before being charged in January, Farah was scheduled to make his 2020 debut with Cabal in Adelaide, before withdrawing and flying to Los Angeles. The two are slated to compete next week in Rio de Janeiro.