The International Disciplinary Court of the FIM has reached a decision at last. Andrea Iannone has been found guilty of having a banned substance in his bloodstream, and suspended from competition for 18 months. The ban is backdated to December 17th, 2019, meaning that Iannone will be eligible to compete from the 16th June 2021.
The ban of 18 months is a reduction from the maximum allowed by the rules of 4 years, and an acknowledgement that Iannone did not ingest the banned substance - anabolic steroid drostanolone - with intent. According to a press release from Aprilia the court accepted that drostanolone ended up in Iannone's urine sample due to food contamination.
But the court ruled that, as the FIM anti-doping rules clearly state, riders are responsible for everything that enters their body, and they have a duty to avoid anything which might cause accidental contamination. That includes being aware that products that appear on the FIM list of banned substances are used in the production of meat in certain parts of the world. Iannone's defense that he ingested drostanolone accidentally, while eating steak during the Pacific flyaways, was not considered sufficient.
Iannone will now appeal to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the current outbreak of the coronavirus is likely to hamper the progress of any appeal. The CAS has suspended all in-person hearings until May 1st, and with the outbreak still spreading in Switzerland, further delays are quite possible. Getting a hearing before he has served a large part of his disqualification period may prove difficult.
Aprilia have committed to standing behind Iannone. In a press release, Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola pointed to the court's finding that Iannone had not intentionally ingested the banned substance, and expressed surprise that this did not result in Iannone being cleared completely.
"The judges recognised Andrea’s complete good faith and unawareness of assuming the substance, confirming the food contamination argument," Rivola stated. "For this reason, the penalty imposed does not make any sense. In light of the motivations written by the judges themselves, Andrea should have been acquitted, as has always occurred to other contaminated athletes, but this situation leaves us a lot of hope for the appeal which we hope will be very quick. We want Andrea back on his Aprilia RS-GP. We will be by his side all the way to the end of this matter and we will support him in his appeal."
Despite Aprilia's expression of support, what this means for Iannone's career is uncertain. Under normal circumstances, an 18-month ban would mean he would be unlikely to return to MotoGP. But the COVID-19 outbreak has shaken things up considerably, making everything uncertain.
Even if racing only starts very late in 2020, it will be difficult for Iannone to find a seat in MotoGP. By the time he will be eligible to race again, he will be almost 32 years old. And becoming eligible in June 2021 means that most of the seats will already be occupied by riders with two-year contracts for 2021 and 2022. Anyone signing Iannone for the 2022 season will be taking a major gamble that Iannone still has the motivation and the ability to compete. They will be choosing between an unknown quantity in Iannone with a relatively short remaining shelf life, and a young Moto2 rider with potential to be a long-term star.
The official FIM press release, containing the judgment from the CDI, and a corresponding press release from Aprilia appear below:
FIM Grand Prix World Championship
FIM International Disciplinary Court (CDI) imposes 18 months suspension on MotoGP Rider Andrea Iannone
The FIM International Disciplinary Court (CDI) handed down on 31 March 2020 a decision imposing a period of ineligibility of eighteen months on Italian MotoGP Rider Mr. Andrea Iannone, commencing on 17 December 2019 (i.e. the effective date of the Provisional Suspension) and which shall end on 16 June 2021.
Following a routine In-Competition doping test conducted at the round of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship held in Sepang, Malaysia on 3 November 2019, Mr. Andrea Iannone tested positive for Drostanolone metabolite 2α-methyl-5α-androstane-3α-ol-17-one, a WADA prohibited substance under heading “S1. Anabolic Agents, 1. Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS), a. Exogenous AAS” of the FIM Anti-doping Code.
Following notification of his adverse analytical finding Mr. Iannone was provisionally suspended by the FIM since 17 December 2019.
A hearing before the CDI on the merits of the case was held in Mies (Switzerland) on 4 February 2020. At the end of the hearing the CDI panel decided to suspend the hearing pending the additional and final written submissions of the parties (i.e. 28 February 2020).
Mr. Iannone is disqualified from Round 18 of the 2019 FIM Grand Prix World Championship held on November 1-3, 2019, in Sepang (Malaysia) and Round 19 of the 2019 FIM Grand Prix World Championship held on November 15-17, 2019, in Valencia (Spain) with all of the resulting consequences including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.
An appeal against the CDI decision may be lodged before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland within 21 days from the date of receipt of the CDI decision pursuant to Article 13.7of the FIM Anti-doping Code.
FIM SENTENCE - FOOD CONTAMINATION ARGUMENT ADMITTED BUT ANDREA IANNONE SUSPENDED FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS
MASSIMO RIVOLA: “ABSURD PENALTY, IT’S A SENTENCE THAT EVEN ACKNOWLEDGES IANNONE’S INNOCENCE. WE WANT ANDREA BACK IN THE SADDLE AND WE’LL SUPPORT HIM IN HIS APPEAL TO THE CAS”
Aprilia Racing acknowledges the FIM measure that imposes an eighteen-month disqualification for rider Andrea Iannone.
Upon initial analysis of the sentence, it is satisfying to see how the total absence of intention was recognised and the accidental nature of the assumption of steroids, in fact recognising the argument of food contamination, something that had never before occurred. This scenario opens up new possibilities of appeal for Andrea Iannone, but the puzzlement remains for a penalty that is entirely inconsistent with the reconstruction contained in the sentence itself which recognises in the facts, albeit without acquitting him, Andrea Iannone’s innocence.
In observance of the sports values which have always inspired our operations and which outline zero tolerance for any practices prohibited by the regulations, Aprilia Racing has always reiterated our complete faith in our rider and we do so now with renewed emphasis after this sentence and we will support him in his appeal to the CAS.
MASSIMO RIVOLA - APRILIA RACING CEO
"The sentence leaves us baffled because of the penalty levied against Andrea, but also very satisfied in its motivations. The judges recognised Andrea’s complete good faith and unawareness of assuming the substance, confirming the food contamination argument. For this reason, the penalty imposed does not make any sense. In light of the motivations written by the judges themselves, Andrea should have been acquitted, as has always occurred to other contaminated athletes, but this situation leaves us a lot of hope for the appeal which we hope will be very quick. We want Andrea back on his Aprilia RS-GP. We will be by his side all the way to the end of this matter and we will support him in his appeal.”