Alberto Salazar's response—and the legal implications—of leaked USADA reports
Nike Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar has once again denied that he has violated any anti-doping rules despite an ongoing investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency into the renowned distance running coach and his training group. Salazar has been accused of abusing prescription medication and infusion to push the limits on anti-doping rules for his athletes to gain a performance-enhancing edge.
“As I have noted repeatedly, the successes my athletes have achieved are through hard work and dedication,” Salazar told the Oregonian on Wednesday night. “I believe in a clean sport and a methodical, dedicated, approach to training. The Oregon Project will never permit doping and all Oregon Project athletes are required to comply with the WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] Code and IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of international track and field] Rules.”
“Lastly, the Oregon Project and its athletes have nothing to hide and are hiding nothing,” Salazar also added. “I fully support their exercising of their rights under the WADA Code and IAAF rules to protect themselves from these improper intrusions. I find it particularly disturbing that athletes' personal medical records are being aired publicly. There is no excuse for it. USADA has failed these innocent athletes.”
Last weekend, The New York Times reported that Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Brown, an endocrinologist known for diagnosing hypothyroidism in distance runners, may have been part of a possible anti-doping violation by Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. In February, The Sunday Times provided several new allegations from March 2016 report into Salazar by USADA. The information was leaked by the Russian hacking group Fancy Bears. A 260-page copy of the interim USADA report was published by track and field website Flotrack on Tuesday but the document’s authenticity was not confirmed by USADA. The latest leaked report says the findings were “subject to change” as the investigation into Salazar and Dr. Brown was in its preliminary stage.
The Sunday Times reported Salazar’s fascination with infusions of l-carnitine, which is an amino acid that is not banned by USADA but infusions of more than 50 milliliters are prohibited. USADA’s leaked reports says the anti-doping agency believes that several of Salazar’s athletes broke anti-doping rules regarding the infusions that may have been greater than 50 milliliters within a six-hour period. The Sunday Times also reported that Salazar put some of his athletes at risk by persuading them to take high doses of vitamin D.
Last summer, USADA sought a deposition from Dr. Brown as part of their investigation into Salazar. A judge denied the attempt to depose Dr. Brown after his lawyer said USADA lacked evidence and was in a “fishing expedition to see if they can find some kind of a problem.”
Allegations against Salazar first came to light in June 2015 when BBC and ProPublica published a joint-report with accounts by former athletes and assistant coaches from the Oregon Project that said Salazar violated medical and anti-doping rules. Salazar denied those allegations with a lengthy report published on the Oregon Project website.
None of Salazar’s Oregon Project athletes have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. His training group includes 2012 and 2016 double-Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, 2012 Olympic silver medalist (10,000-meters) and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist (marathon) Galen Rupp, 2016 Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz, 2017 Boston Marathon third-place finisher Jordan Hasay, 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter American record holder Shannon Rowbury and several others.
Legal implications of leaked USADA investigation report
Editor’s note: The 260-page interim investigation report has not been confirmed by USADA or authenticated. Please note that all comments below are written assuming that the report is real and authentic.
• To me, the most telling part of the purported report is the unanswered question: Why has USADA not punished Salazar? The report details numerous times when Salazar appeared to break anti-doping rules and other USADA rules. Further, for several years, USADA has been aware or had strong suspicions of those apparent violations. In fact, USADA has been on notice of Salazar potentially breaking doping rules since at least August 2013 when The Wall Street Journal story on Salazar ran. It stands to reason that USADA knew before then, including through Salazar's "hide the ball" email in January 2012.
On one hand, it's admirable that USADA is so committed to a complete, thorough and lengthy investigation of Salazar that it won't find Salazar at fault and punish him until USADA is completely certain.
On the other hand, USADA hasn't always adopted that type of approach. With Lance Armstrong, for example, USADA seemed to act with more haste.
• Let's not forget the report's authenticity has not been confirmed and, even if it proves authentic, USADA could still punish Salazar and others involved. Still, assuming the report is real, the delay in punishing is difficult to fully understand given that this report details numerous anti-doping violations.
• If the document is authentic and contains untrue statements about Salazar and others they could sue USADA for libel. USADA, however, would argue that 1) USADA makes clear the document is interim and not final; and 2) the document should be considered privileged since it is a response to a subpoena and was expressly intended to be confidential.
• While USADA correctly notes the report is a response to a subpoena from a state medical licensing agency, the report is remarkably extensive. I can only imagine how many hours went into this document and accompanying investigation. It's clear the investigation was motivated by more than a mere desire to comply with an out-of-state subpoena. The fact that it is called a "report" rather than a response or answer is also suggestive of a broader investigative goal.
• It is very hard to discern from the report if any criminal acts were committed. This is not surprising. USADA's point of interest is—understandably—whether USADA anti-doping rules were violated, not whether criminal laws were broken as USADA is not authorized to make such determinations. That said, if the report proves accurate, drug trafficking, conspiracy and even racketeering charges are plausible, as it the report suggests drugs were trafficked across state as part of an organized operation. The possible application of criminal law is a complex topic, however, and in some potential cases the statute of limitations might have expired. It's also not clear if the FDA, DEA or Department of Justice or related Texas law enforcement agencies had any involvement in this investigation or awareness of it.