Yasuhiro Suzuki, a 32-year-old Japanese competitive kayaker, was recently given an 8-year ban from competition by the Japanese Canoe Federation for spiking 25-year-old Seiji Komatsu‘s drink at last September’s national canoe sprint championships.
Prior to the incident both men had been considered top prospects to represent Japan at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, reports the Japan Times. Now, however, neither of them will have the opportunity to represent Japan on home soil.
Komatsu was tested for banned substances following his victory in the men’s K1 5000 meter race at last September’s Japanese championships. The test revealed Komatsu had consumed methandienone, a banned muscle-building agent, leading to his disqualification and suspension by the Japanese Canoe Federation.
Komatsu adamantly defended his innocence, leading to an investigation by the Japanese Canoe Federation, and the eventual confession from Suzuki, who is quoted in the Sun Times saying “I was fretting. I did it as I thought he would overwhelm me. I didn’t expect he’d actually test positive.”
The investigation further revealed that Suzuki had made repeated attempts to sabotage other competitors by stealing equipment used in competition and training, though it is not reported whether his actions or attempted-actions actually affected other competitors’ performances.
Sports Agency Director Daichi Suzuki told the Japan Times “An incident of this nature is unheard of in the history of sports in Japan and it is very disappointing.”
Komatsu was reinstated by the Japanese Canoe Federation following Suzuki’s confession, though his results from September’s competition, which served as Japan’s Olympic qualifying event, will remain voided. Meanwhile, some believe Suzuki deserves a lifetime ban from the Japanese Canoe Federation and that 8 years is too lenient. Furthermore, Komatsu has filed a complaint with the police in Ishikawa Prefecture where the competition took place. It is unknown whether Suzuki will also face criminal charges for his actions.
While this may be Japan’s first known case of one athlete sabotaging another with a banned substance, it is not the first time it has happened in Olympic sports.
In 2004 Azerbaijani Paralympic powerlifter Gunduz Ismayilov was dealt a lifetime ban by the IPC after failing a drug test administered during the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. Ismayilov, who had previously served a two-year ban for a failed drug test at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, took the case–and his former partner–to court in Azerbaijan.
Ismayilov’s former girlfriend, also a Paralympian, admitted in a Baku court of law that she had sabotaged his drink in the Athens Paralympic Village with a prohibited substance. Ismayilov and his former partner had separated in 2003, and though Ismayilov believed the two were on “good terms,” his appraisal of his ex’s feelings towards him was apparently incorrect. Whether or not Ismayilov’s saboteur was punished by any sporting federations or the IPC was not reported, and even her identity has been carefully kept out of reportings on the case.
Similarly, Belgian judoka Charline van Snick was given a two-year ban by the International Judo Federation for a failed drug test at the 2013 World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The in-competition drug test revealed that Van Snick had recently ingested cocaine, which she vehemently denied. Though cocaine is not strictly considered “performance-enhancing,” it is banned for use during competition, similar to rules regarding alcohol use to calm athletes’ nerves.
Van Snick, who insisted that she had never used cocaine in any way, shape, or form, took her case before the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). On July 4th, 2014 CAS revealed a new ruling:
“The arbitral Panel has considered that the scenario of sabotage by a malicious third party was… the most likely scenario. Taking also into account the very low quantity of cocaine metabolites detected and the likely chronology of events, the arbitral Panel has considered that Charline van Snick was not guilty of any fault or negligence….”
However, like Komatsu, Van Snick’s results from the 2013 World Championships remain voided, though her saboteur is still unknown.
The prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is a serious issue all athletes, coaches, and fans must rise up and face. An athlete who would use a banned substance to enhance their performance is not in it for the love of the sport, but for the love of winning only. However, it takes a certain kind of cowardice and greed to target and actively undermine a competitor’s performance, reputation, and eligibility.
Cases such as these only further complicate the decisions CAS and other governing bodies of sport must make when considering Russia’s ban from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Is it possible some Russian athletes did not know they were ingesting banned substances? Absolutely. However, that argument does not mean a state-sponsored doping scheme did not also occur.