USADA announced a two–year suspension for Viscardi Andrade, based on a sample taken over a year ago in March 2016. Iain Kidd examines why it took a year to announce the suspension.
Back on April 12th, 2016, the UFC announced that Viscardi Andrade had failed a USADA test administered on March 7th. On March 21st, 2017, USADA announced that Andrade had received a 2-year suspension as a result of that failure, backdated to March 20th 2016. The drug Andrade failed for, stanozolol, is the same anabolic steroid Cris Cyborg famously used and received a one-year suspension for back in 2011.
Several other mixed martial artists, including Tim Sylvia, Ken Shamrock and over a dozen others have also failed tests for stanozolol, which is also known as Winstrol. The drug carries a two year suspension under the UFC’s anti-doping policies as it is classed as a non-specified substance.
Prior to the UFC’s anti-doping partnership with USADA coming into effect, fighters would generally receive much more lenient punishments from athletic commissions. Cyborg received a 12 month suspension from the California State Athletic Commission in 2011, and Tim Sylvia only received a 6 month suspension from the Nevada state athletic commission in 2003.
Stanozolol has historically been popular among combat sports athletes due to its ability to help a person gain significant amounts of muscle without retaining much water. It is known as an effective way to build strength without also causing significant weight gain. It is also potentially more effective in women than men, due to its action on SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin).
There is evidence that anabolic steroids can give athletes long-term advantages over their competition, even years after use. Studies have shown that in both humans and mice the benefits last long after the steroid use has stopped. This is theorized to be caused by an increase in nuclei in the muscle fiber. This means someone who takes anabolic steroids could potentially increase the maximum amount of muscle they can build beyond their natural limits for decades, even after they stop taking the steroids.
As more research has come out showing the potential long term benefits of anabolic steroid use, drug testing agencies and athletic commissions have started paying more attention to suspension lengths. WADA has been researching the long term benefits since at least 2014, and commissions seem to be recognizing that the short punishments like those previously given to fighters like Sylvia and Cyborg may be insufficient in cases of anabolic steroid use.
Nevada, who previously suspended Sylvia for just six months, announced 36-month minimum suspensions for steroid use in 2015. California, which a little over five years ago suspended Cris Cyborg for one year for steroid use, attempted to suspend Alexander Shlemenko for three years, though the California Superior Court ultimately overruled that decision. The two year base suspension for steroids in the UFC/USADA anti-doping policy will likely lead to other athletic commission adopting tougher sanctions on steroid use as well.
An interesting facet to Andrade’s case is the length of time between the failed test and his suspension being announced. The sample was taken on March 6th, 2016, and the suspension announced over a year later on March 21st 2017.
This is likely to be the result of the drug testing process working properly. Fighters have limited rights under the UFC’s anti-doping policy, but there is a certain amount of due process available to them. In Andrade’s case his sample was processed by a lab which went on to have its accreditation suspended a couple of months later, and it’s very possible he requested further testing of his samples, or challenged his results, on those grounds.
Another fighter, Felipe Olivieri, tried and failed to challenge his own suspension based on the Rio lab’s errors. The UFC’s arbitrators decided that unless Olivieiri could establish that the Rio lab’s errors could have reasonably led to a false-positive on his sample, the Rio lab’s suspension was not grounds to overturn his failed test.
Fighters are able to observe their own “B” sample testing, and can communicate with and challenge USADA’s determination. From what I have seen and been told, USADA tend to be pretty responsive to fighters facing suspension and provide information when requested. Fighters also have the option of going to arbitration, though the UFC’s chosen arbitration service has never ruled against the UFC/USADA in any challenge brought by a UFC fighter.
The process of challenging results, appealing and otherwise availing themselves of their due process rights takes time. Since the UFC/USADA tends to impose a provisional suspension on fighters when their “A” sample comes back positive, the suspension is backdated to when that provisional suspension was imposed. This means even though it can take a year to exhaust the appeal process, a fighter’s suspension will be backdated to when their sample was positive if a provisional suspension was imposed, which seems to always be the case.
While there are several questionable substance classifications in WADA’s prohibited list, stanozolol isn’t one of them. There is an abundance of evidence showing it gives a significant benefit to performance, and even some reason to believe that it could give long term benefits to athletes years after its administration. Outside of very specific medical uses for muscle wasting, there’s no real reason for a person to take stanozolol outside of its ability to help them gain or retain muscle.