The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reduced Will Brothers‘ suspension from four years to two for a refusing to take a doping control test on medical grounds in 2015.
Brothers was selected for an out-of-competition test in August of 2015, with doping control agents arriving at his apartment in Vancouver, Canada. Brothers says he underwent a panic attack that night and was unable to submit to the test. His refusal to take the test caused FINA to slap him with a four-year suspension beginning on August 26, 2015, the date of the missed test.
But Brothers appealed the decision on four grounds. He says his panic attack was “compelling justification” to refuse the original test, that the officers at his apartment that night did not properly warn him about the consequences of refusing the test, that he was not intentionally cheating by refusing the test due to the influence of the panic attack and that a four-year suspension is not proportional to his level of fault.
Doping control officers allege that when they arrived at Brothers’ apartment, he invited them inside and was “friendly and cooperative” and did not behave “in a manner which in any way could be described as ‘panic’,” according to the CAS document. They say Brothers’ girlfriend, in the apartment at the time, told Brothers to call his father, and that they could hear part of Brothers’ phone conversation with his father in which his father allegedly said “don’t say anything else, you don’t have to tell them anything,” and told Brothers to refuse the test and that they would “deal with the suspension.”
On the other hand, the doping control officers did note in their report that Brothers “looked very nervous, his face was red and he wouldn’t look at me.”
CAS partially upheld Brothers’ appeal, supporting some of his arguments but not all. Ultimately, his suspension was reduced from four years to two. The CAS panel declined to officially label Brothers’ state as a “panic attack,” but did rule that he made the decision to refuse the test under “mounting stress, perhaps under extreme stress.” The panel pointed to Brothers’ extensive medical history (stretching back to seven different operations prior to the age of two and forward to more recent health issues Brothers says stemmed from overtraining under a previous coach) qualified as “extraordinary circumstances” that called for a reduced sentence from the original four years.
Brothers has more recently been diagnosed with depression and associated anxiety (in March 2015) and also suffers from asthma and basilar migraines, among other conditions.
The suspension itself won’t have significant swimming impact, as Brothers officially retired from the sport within a week of the refused test. He also says he had decided to “take a break from swimming” prior to the night of the refused test.
His official suspension is now officially over as of August 26, 2017, but Brothers remains retired from the sport.
You can read the full CAS decision here.
UPDATE – OCT 20: Brothers has provided SwimSwam with a statement about the CAS decision to reduce his suspension. Brothers disputed the doping control officers’ assertions about whether or not he suffered a panic attack, noting that those officers are not trained medical professionals or qualified to diagnose a panic attack. He also says the combined stress of his ongoing medical issues, the late-night arrival of the agents and his fear of needles brought on the attack when the officers arrived and asked for blood. His full statement is below:
“It has been a long and somewhat difficult few years for me. During the 2014 swim season I started to develop significant medical challenges and injuries. The later of which were certainly related were to my training program. I decided to switch training programs in 2015 for both a fresh start and for academic reasons. However, my medical condition stagnated and I continued to experience the same medical concerns and mounting overuse injuries. In early 2015, I also developed some mental health issues and this crested with the death of my long-time swim coach in April of 2015. For these reasons, I had decided that I needed to step away from swimming in the best interest of my mental and physical health.
At the height of dealing with all of this, at the end of August 2015, I had a FINA testing mission come to my apartment late at night and for medical reasons I was not able to submit to the test. FINA heard my case early in 2016 and despite the medical evidence submitted by my doctors and by FINA’s own medical professionals they handed down a 4-year suspension, the maximum possible penalty for my case.
I felt that the FINA decision was overly harsh and disproportionate to the offense, so I decided to appeal the decision through the Court of Arbitration of Sport. I am happy with the final decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and feel as though they did all they could to mitigate the penalty within World Anti-Doping Agency set guidelines. They seemed to actually consider the medical evidence this time and recognized that there was no intent to evade or cheat. I am also happy that they acknowledged that the FINA DCO’s did not necessarily conduct themselves in the way they should have, given my condition at the time of the testing mission.
I have always competed clean and up hold the values of sportsmanship. Since I have left the sport, I have made a recovery from many of the issues I faced. I would like to thank my family, the coaches at the University of British Columbia and my doctors for their support and in my recovery. I look forward to life long swimming for fitness.”