TT sprinter Michelle-Lee Ahye, 27, will miss out on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan after receiving a two-year ban by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) on Tuesday morning.
In a 22-paged document, the federation’s Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) said the ban was a result of “whereabouts failure” – a violation of its Anti-Doping Rules. The AIU was established in 2017 to “protect the integrity of athletics, including fulfilling the IAAF’s obligations.”
According to article 2.14 of the rules, whereabouts failure is “any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures, as defined in the international standard for testing and investigations, within a twelve-month period.”
But the sprinter is claiming she was unable to hear knocks on her door and the ringing of her apartment’s doorbell on the date scheduled for the final test which led to her penalisation. The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist missed three tests on June 23, 2018, February 23, 2019 and April 19, 2019. She was also provisionally suspended from athletics by the federation last September because of this, which prevented her from competing in the 2019 IAAF World Championships held in Doha, Qatar.
Reasons given for absences
The document said the sprinter sent a letter on July 4, 2018, explaining why she missed the test on June 23, 2018.
She said, “Firstly, I must apologise for not being where I had indicated on my previous whereabouts form.
“I planned to leave for the Trinidad Championships at a later time that day, but had to change my flight late the night before, due to personal reasons. Consequently, I did not update my whereabouts form, as I was rushing around all night and in the morning prior to flying to Trinidad.”
The letter continued, “I understand that whereabouts compliance is a factor for all athletes and this occasion for me was unique. I will endeavour to comply with the AIU and whereabouts filing going forward.”
The document also said Ahye was notified of the initial, provisional suspension on August 30, 2019 but denied the charge on September 2, 2019. She then requested a personal hearing before a tribunal to “advance and develop the explanation she had offered through her attorney (Howard Jacobs).”
The hearing was held last December via video call as it included individuals who were in the US, Sweden and London. Ahye and Jacobs were in California, US.
During this, the AIU told her the information in the letter about her absence on June 23, 2018 “could not have possibly been correct” as she was competing in Trinidad at the time. The National Open Championships were held from June 22 to June 24 that year.
She did not challenge this point. She was then cross-examined and it was agreed the e-mail was wrong and misleading.
The AIU ruled the second missed test as “administrative muddle” and no fault of the athlete.
But when it came to the final missed test, the doping control officer, only referred to as “Mr Thomas,” gave an account of his unsuccessful attempt at contacting her. Thomas said he arrived at Ahye’s apartment at around 6 am on April 19, 2019. Ahye had said she’d be available for testing 6 am and 7 am that day. He claimed he knocked loudly and rang the doorbell several times but to no avail. He also said he called Ahye’s phone, showing the call log on his phone as evidence. He eventually left at 7 am.
But Ahye e-mailed the AIU on May 3, 2019, saying, ““Missed test I was home on that day you can not knock on the door because I would not hear it my room is all the way on the 3rd level that’s why there is a doorbell. This miss (sic) test is not my fault because I was home.”
At the tribunal, she provided a printed document dated March 24, 2019 in which she was complaining to her landlord about being unable to hear the doorbell from her bedroom. The document also claimed it was fixed on March 27, 2019.
The AIU rejected these explanations, adding that she provided no explanation for not answering Thomas’ phone calls.
But Jacobs said the officer could have spoken to other people on the compound to try getting in contact with his client.
The AIU retained its stance, saying Thomas reasonably did all he could.
The document said, “We find that the athlete has failed to establish that no negligent behaviour on her part caused or contributed to her failure to be available for testing at the location she had announced during the time slot she had given.”
It said Ahye lacks formal doping education.
'An unfortunate development'
TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis told Newsday the committee will continue to promote doping education to all its athletes, and extend support when they face setbacks.
He said, "This is an unfortunate development. Michelle is a hard-working athlete in the prime of her career.
"That said," he continued, "The rules are clear as they relate to the athlete's responsibilities and the consequences for failing to meet those obligations."
He said the TTOC hosts regular courses and lectures about anti-doping rules, adding that there will be one on February 15. He said the turnout is usually "very good." Another is set for an unconfirmed date in March.
But Lewis said attendance is not mandatory to the athletes. Asked if this will ever be considered to prevent issues like these from occurring in the future, he said, "We offer enough opportunities for the athletes to attend and to be made aware."
He said the athletes must also have some responsibility to make use of these resources as it is in their best interest.
He also said support is crucial for athletes who undergo any major setback in their career.
"Athletes are human beings and they go through difficult moments. The nature of elite sports – it's very easy for people to be critical and abandon people and leave them out in the wilderness.
"We try to be there when the athletes most need the support and assistance. We have confidence in the athletes' talents and potential, and we respect the fact that they are human beings. And it is human to make mistakes. We are here to help our athletes get back up and walk with them during the difficult moments."
Asked about the impact her absence would have in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan – as she would have competed in the women's 100m race and 4x100m team relay – he said "At the end of the day, life happens."
Ahye represented TT at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, placing sixth in the 100m and 200m finals.
Stripped of medals, titles, appearance fees
As a result of the violation, she has been stripped of several local and international medals. The consequences also include forfeiture of any titles, ranking points, prize and appearance money.
The AIU document said, "All competitive results that she has returned between April 19, 2019 and August 30, 2019 shall be disqualified."
Her attorney, Howard Jacobs, argued this, claiming Ahye was tested ten times during the period and all tests were either negative or "yielded no result."
But the AIU said, "We do not consider such arguments provide a sufficient reason to do other than rule that the sanction of suspension should start to run from the date of the third missed test, namely 19 April, 2019."
On August 7, 2019, the sprinter copped silver in the women's 100m final at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
She retained her national 100m title at the NGC/NAAATT National Open Championships at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on July 28, 2019.
She won the women’s 200 metre “B” race at the Spitzen Leichtathletik track meet in Switzerland on July 9, 2019 and competed in several prestigious IAAF Diamond League races during the time slot.
And on June 16, 2019 she claimed silver in the women's 150m final at the increasingly popular Adidas Boost Boston Games.
TT was also recently stripped of two other 2019 Pan Am medals in cycling (men’s team sprint and men’s individual sprint) due to doping.