Updated: May 29
What happens now that Bronson Xerri has been provisionally suspended for doping?
On Tuesday 25 May, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks rugby league player, Bronson Xerri, was notified that he had ben provisionally suspended by the National Rugby League (NRL) under their Anti-Doping Policy for failing a doping test on 25 November 2019.
According to an NRL media statement, the 19 year old player returned a positive A-sample "for exogenous Testosterone, Androsterone, Etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a,17b-diol" when tested.
Several of the substances are anabolic steroids, or compounds that are tested to detect the use of steroids. All are prohibited under both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy, which the player (and all NRL players) is bound to.
The rules governing the process from here are quite technical, but might be summarised (relevantly) as follows:
What are Bronson's options now that he has returned a positive A-sample?
Mr Xerri's options here are fairly narrow, as defined by his rights as well as very technical anti-doping laws and rules in place as part of Australia's national sport integrity framework regarding what is a strict-liability offence. The process Mr Xerri now finds himself in can be summarised as:
(currently) provisional suspension;
ASADA investigation - including searches of mobile phones, computers etc
sanctions (if required).
Basically, as to his options, Mr Xerri can fight the finding and any sanction pleading various arguments including: contamination; lack of intention; or that he is part of a wider criminal operation, or he can accept the finding and the likely following sanction.
'B' Sample Testing Under the technical rules in place, the athlete may elect for additional testing as under the integrity framework of anti-doping laws, regulations, and the NRL's policies, if a 'B' sample was also collected from Mr Xerri at the time, and if the athlete elects to, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) (in this case) will test the 'B' sample to confirm the result. If Mr Xerri does not elect to have any 'B' sample analysed, ASADA, as the National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO), itself can elect to test the 'B' sample. Under the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy, Mr Xerri and/or his representatives have the opportunity to attend the 'B' Sample opening and analysis and he has the right to right to request copies of the A and B Sample laboratory documentation package which includes information as required by the International Standard for Laboratories. If the 'B' sample does not confirm the 'A' sample findings, the entire test shall be considered negative.
Provisional Hearing Also under the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy, as he is under a provisional suspension, the athlete has the right to a Provisional Hearing at which he may seek to try and convince a panel that some sort of contamination has resulted in the 'A' sample finding - this is obviously quite a hurdle to successfully navigate, though not an impossible one from recent cases.
Expedited Hearing Or Mr Xerri may request an expedited Hearing before the NRL's Anti-Doping Tribunal. The rules of the hearing would follow the rules set out in the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy, which as a player Mr Xerri is bound to.
Appeal to the CAS Any decision of the NRL's Anti-Doping Tribunal would be appealable by Mr Xerri to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the CAS).
What are the likely repercussions of this?
Provisional Suspension The repercussions from the athlete's provisional suspension under the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy include an obvious threat to Mr Xerri's immediate playing career. The apparent slow nature of the anti-doping process and its disproportionate impact on athletes, who often have relatively short professional or elite careers in sport, means that this may take some time to play out, unless the athlete can convince a panel that there has been some contamination resulting in the finding.
Sanctions if Guilty If eventually found guilty of an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV), Mr Xerri, as with any athlete found guilty of doping, faces a sanction of a period of ineligibility of between 2-4 years, depending on the specification of the substance(s) under the WADA Prohibited List (as adopted by the NRL) and any determinations as to the athlete's intentions. Where it is found that an athlete intended to dope, or intended to cheat, the sanction is obviously more severe.
Any period of Provisional Suspension (whether imposed or voluntarily accepted) shall be credited against the total period of ineligibility imposed
Reduced Sanctions Any period of ineligibility may be reduced where an athlete could carry an argument of No Significant Fault or Negligence. Further, where an athlete subject of an ADRV may assist ASADA in relation to investigations and sanctions against another person or, say, a criminal organisation, the athlete's sanction may be eliminated, reduced, or suspended.
Future Playing Career Even if, hypothetically, subject to a 4 year period of ineligibility to play rugby league (or any sports under the WADA Code), as a young athlete, this is not the end of Mr Xerri's professional sports career. Though it may be difficult to re-start a playing career after a lengthy ban, as other athlete's have shown, it is not impossible.
Impacts to 'Brand' However, beyond the obvious impacts to Mr Xerri's playing future, he also faces massive negative impacts to his off-field business opportunities as his personal brand has now been tarnished just through the announcement of the adverse findings in his 'A' sample. This damage is largely unrecoverable.
Costs On top of all of that, where Mr Xerri elects to fight this finding, he faces a costly and lengthy, and often stressful, fight ahead of him
Health & Wellbeing
What Mr Xerri may need most now is support, which he will receive from the club and the NRL, as well as the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA).
Would there be any reason why there was a six-month delay between testing and getting a positive sample?
Unfortunately, and very regrettably for athletes seeking to protest their innocence on the basis of contamination (requiring samples taken and kept at the time of consumption prior to testing), testing of samples does take time. Often testing labs are testing for minute traces of prohibited substances, in accordance with international standards. The NADOs must also refer to any therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) kept on file that may explain the presence of prohibited substances. Often some labs may also face backlogs due to large volumes of samples taken and low staff numbers etc.
However, 6 months between sample collection and notification to the sporting body and athlete does raise a question here as to why it has taken so long. Though referring to different substances and circumstances, by way of recent comparison other athletes have been notified far more quickly:
Shayna Jack (Swimming, Ligandrol) - tested 26 June 2019, Swimming Australia notified 12 July 2019 = less than 1 month
James Segeyaro (Rugby League, Ligandrol) tested “early” Sep 2019, NRL notified 3 Oct 2019 = ~ 1 month.
In Mr Xerri's favour in this case, should any period of ineligibility be imposed as a sanction against him where found guilty of an ADRV, the WADA code states that (at WADC 10.11.1):
"where there have been substantial delays in the hearing process or other aspects of Doping Control not attributable to the Athlete or other Person, the body imposing the sanction may start the period of Ineligibility at an earlier date commencing as early as the date of Sample collection or the date on which another anti-doping rule violation last occurred."
Under the Anti-Doping Policy, Mr Xerri now has the opportunity to have his B-sample analysed, what is a B-sample in lay man's terms?
The athlete's 'B' sample is a back-up. It is simply another sample of urine and/or blood taken from the athlete at the same time as the 'A' sample, taken at the same location, and under the same conditions, by the same person. The 'B' sample is taken as a backup in case some contamination of the 'A' sample took place somewhere along the line of the initial testing.
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