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Ironman and PTO face off over Starykowicz case

Organizations battle over appropriate oversight for doping sanctions

Photo by: Talbot Cox

The Professional Triathletes Organization (PTO) says it wants to “invesigate what appears to be structural irregularities in the anti-doping case against Andrew Starykowicz.”

The heart of the issue, according to a press release from the PTO today, is that Ironman, a privately owned for-profit company, can apply sanctions independent of World Triathlon.

“We have communicated to both the USAT and World Triathlon, as well as to the World Anti-Doping Agency, that there seems to be a fundamental flaw in a system where a private for-profit organisation has the ability to insist on sanctions independent of the world governing body and that an athlete’s sole recourse is an expensive legal and appeal process. Such a system is fraught with conflicts of interest, ripe for abuse and suspectable to violations of basic due process and equal protection. An athlete should not be driven to the brink of bankruptcy trying to overcome this structural flaw and the massive power imbalance when a for-profit organisation has authority over an athlete regarding anti-doping issues, which we feel rightfully should be solely the providence of our sport’s independent, not-for-profit governing body.”

The PTO suggests that Starykowicz’s four-year ban was “over ten times the length of bans for similar offences.”

Ironman fired back quickly after the PTO’s release with one of it’s own with the headline “Ironman’s Response to False and Misleading Statements Regarding Andrew Starykowicz Anti-Doping Rule Violation” – you can read it here.

“Nothing in Ironman’s process is independent of oversight from other Anti-Doping Organizations,” the document stated.

Ironman argues that as a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) signatory, it is “obligated to operate its Anti-Doping Program in compliance with the WADA Code like other private and public WADA Code Signatory’s.

We documented Starykowicz’s case in a few stories last week:

Starykowicz suspended, ordered to pay back Ironman prize money for positive test

America pro triathlete Andrew Starykowicz said therapeutic use exemptions were “doping.” A week later he applied for one.

Starykowicz applied for a therapeutic use exception (TUE) after being forced to drop out of the Ironman World Championship due to illness. After being told by the United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA) that “if the TUE is not granted by the start of your competition, you will be committing an anti-doping rule violation by competing without an approved TUE for a prohibited substance,” Starykowicz raced at Ironman 70.3 Waco and Ironman Florida before receiving an approved TUE. He was not tested in Waco, but eventually tested positive at Ironman Florida.

Ironman initially sanctioned Starykowicz for four years: “The intentional use of a “Specified Substance” results in an anti-doping rule violation with a starting period of ineligibility of four-years under Article 10.2 of the WADA Code,” it said in today’s release. “Unlike other cases, Mr. Starykowicz intentionally elected to compete while knowingly using a prohibited substance, and manifestly disregarded the risk that his Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) application would be declined.

After USADA denied his TUE application, Starykowicz appealed to the USADA Medical Review Board, which confirmed the denial of the application. He then appealed to the WADA Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee, which also denied the appeal. He appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who denied his appeal. After the CAS appeal was denied, Ironman agreed to reduced Starykowicz’s penalty to 13 months because the substance he had tested positive for, vilanterol, was being removed from the WADA banned list on January 1, 2021. Starykowicz applied for arbitration to appeal that amended charge – an independent arbitrator upheld Ironman’s amended sanction and found “no proof af any animus towards the athlete.”

Here’s a list of the detailed decisions Ironman included in its release:

The PTO acknowledges that Starykowicz committed an offence and competed without a TUE – according to today’s release its focus is “designed to address a system that allows a private, for-profit entity, without any initial oversight from our governing bodies, to institute sanctions. The PTO is looking to work with our governing bodies so future athletes are not subject to what we believe is a structurally flawed system.”