Sorry saga of a hotel cup of tea ends with a fine, suspension for Canadian jumping athlete

Two cups of coca tea.
Two cups of coca tea. Photo: Anikó Reggel Dervaricsné, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The breakfast cup of tea which turned into a nightmare for Canadian jumping rider Nicole Walker has ended with a fine and suspension, which she has already served.

Walker and the FEI agreed a final settlement in the case, which has been signed off by the FEI Tribunal.

Walker took part in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, in 2019. A sample taken from her on August 7 – the day of the team final – subsequently tested positive for the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine, which is a prohibited substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited Substance List.

Walker explained to the tribunal that the positive finding resulted from her drinking tea at the hotel where she was staying. She was not aware at that time that the tea – which was coca tea, but which she mistook as green tea – contained cocaine.

She said she had never intentionally taken cocaine in her life, recreationally or otherwise.

Although she did go out to dinner several times in Lima during the Games, she never had any other beverages which could possibly contain cocaine.

She noted that she had never committed any anti-doping violation in the past and was aware that she could have been tested competing in the Games.

Walker provided evidence in support of her position.

The FEI said it was satisfied that Walker had established the reason for failed drug test – her consumption of coca tea which she had taken from her hotel’s breakfast buffet.

It took into account expert evidence which confirmed that the concentration of the metabolite found in Walker’s sample could indeed have resulted from drinking coca tea during the event.

The FEI further took into account the statement from the hotel manager where Walker stayed that coca tea is offered to guests.

Turning to her culpability, the FEI said Walker had consumed the tea without checking its ingredients and was therefore at fault, since it is her duty as an athlete to check all products before consuming them.

While the “No Fault or Negligence” cannot apply under the anti-doping rules, it accepted that Walker had shown she bore “No Significant Fault or Negligence” in the case.

The FEI and Walker agreed to a one-year suspension, which has been fully served already, mostly under a provisional suspension.

Walker will also pay a fine of 1500 Swiss francs.

In addition, Walker must complete an anti-doping education course within the next 12 months and provide certification to both the FEI and Equestrian Canada.

In a decision late in 2019, the Panam Sports Disciplinary Commission disqualified the individual results obtained by Walker on August 7 and 9 August, and her results from August 6 and 7 were replaced with those of the fourth Canadian team member for the team final, meaning that Argentina earned a team quota place for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Walker and her national federation, Equestrian Canada, appealed the disqualification to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it was dismissed by the court.

The court, in its decision, allowed the FEI Tribunal to decide on the merits of the case, which it has now done.

Valérie Horyna, sitting as a one-member tribunal panel, ratified the agreement between Walker and the FEI.

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