Swiss riders Steve Guerdat and Alessandra Bichsel have been exonerated over failed drug tests in their horses which arose due to poppy-seed contamination of feed.
Guerdat, who is the 2012 Olympic showjumping champion, and Bichsel both reached legal agreements with the FEI which cleared them of any wrongdoing.
The agreements, in which the FEI accepts that the positives were caused by poppy-seed contamination, were independently approved by the FEI Tribunal.
The cases against Guerdat arose after samples taken at the CSIO5* at La Baule, France, on May 17 from his mount Nino des Buissonnets were positive for the banned substances codeine and oripavine, and the controlled medication morphine. Guerdat and Nino won the Grand Prix on the day of testing.
Samples taken the day before at the same event from Nasa, ridden by Guerdat to third place in the La Baule Derby, were positive for codeine and morphine. The sample also showed traces of oripavine, but not at a sufficiently high level to declare a positive for the substance.
Bichsel’s case arose after samples taken at the CSIOY (Young Riders) event in Deauville, France, on May 8 from Charivari KG were positive for codeine, oripavine and morphine.
Under the agreements, no sanctions will apply against either Guerdat or Bichsel other than the automatic disqualification of the horses at the events where they tested positive.
Guerdat and Bichsel were notified of the positives by the FEI on July 20 and were both provisionally suspended. The three horses were also provisionally suspended for two months.
FEI Secretary General Sabrina Zeender acknowledged in July that the three positives were probably the result of poppy-seed contamination, but that procedures still had to be followed.
The FEI Tribunal agreed to lift the provisional suspensions on the riders on July 27, but refused to lift them on the horses. The horses’ suspensions expired on September 19.
Guerdat and Bichsel had used the same feed supplier, and independent laboratory tests proved that the feed was contaminated with poppy seeds.
The FEI accepted that the circumstances of the cases were exceptional and that the presence of the three prohibited substances in the horses’ samples was consistent with poppy-seed contamination.
The FEI also accepted that Guerdat and Bichsel bore no fault or negligence, having established how the banned substances entered the horses’ systems. Both requirements must be met under the FEI’s anti-doping rules to have the two-year period of ineligibility and other sanctions eliminated.
Neither athlete had to appear before the FEI Tribunal, although it did give its formal approval to the agreements and closed the cases.
Zeender said: “Both these athletes and the Swiss National Federation have worked in full cooperation with the FEI to secure these landmark agreements and it’s good to know that since the beginning of this year the FEI processes can facilitate such settlements so that athletes are able to clear their names when contamination is involved.”
She said the pair fully accepted that standard procedures had to be followed. They were able to provide proof that the positives were due to contamination. That, she said, meant a settlement could be reached that was acceptable to both the FEI and to the FEI Tribunal.
Guerdat, Bichsel and the Swiss Equestrian Federation declared their relief at the outcome.
Federation president Charles Trolliet said: “We are very happy that the decision of the FEI Tribunal confirms that all positive samples taken from the three horses in question are clearly due to food contamination.
“Thus our two athletes are not at fault and did not make any mistakes, since they did not ‘dope’ their horses.
“For the world of equestrian sports, the FEI and the national federations, as well as for the animal feed sector, we now have to draw the right lessons from this unpleasant story and take appropriate measures.”
Guerdat said he was delighted to have been completely exonerated and vindicated by the FEI and the FEI Tribunal of any suspicion of doping.
“And I am happy and satisfied that the evidence confirmed absolutely that the circumstances of the food contamination were exceptional and that we, the riders, acted at all times in a highly professional and diligent manner and were not at fault or negligent at all.
“For me, the wellbeing of my horses is the absolute priority in my daily work as a horse owner and jumping rider. The judges’ decision is extremely important to me; it means that my horses and I can finally re-focus all of our energy on purely sporting aspects.
“As jumping riders we have diligent duties to perform in the fight against doping, for the wellbeing of animals, in our own interest and that of equestrian sport.
“I fully agree with the FEl’s position in the fight against doping and have always been in its favour as a sportsman and horse owner.
“However, it appears that all those responsible should consider ways in optimising procedures and currently valid guidelines so that in the future, a non-proven suspicion of error on behalf of the rider, such as in my case, would be thoroughly treated before unjustified accusations – with grave consequences for the reputation of the person – are made public.”