TURNED IN CIRCLES : Suspended Hammer Thrower Green Faces a Maze in Appealing Drug Test
In the days after Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold medal at 100 meters and suspended from track and field for 2 years, the Canadian sprinter’s advisers weighed his options.
When talk of an appeal was raised, few of amateur sport’s observers were surprised.
But some were amused.
American hammer thrower Bill Green of San Jose and his attorneys were not laughing at Ben Johnson, they were laughing at the maze-like appeals system that exists for the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). They knew what Johnson had in store if he chose to appeal.
On Aug. 10, 1987, Bill Green, a 1984 Olympian, won the silver medal in the hammer throw at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. Afterward, as were all medalists, Green was tested for drugs.
On Aug. 12, his A sample tested positive for excessive testosterone, a natural hormone.
On Aug. 15, his B test was also declared positive.
Green was stripped of his medal--symbolically, as it turns out, since he still has it hanging from his dresser. His name, however, was stricken from the Pan American record books and he was suspended from international competition by the IAAF.
Or was he?
More than 14 months later, Green still cannot say what the length of his suspension is, nor, for that matter, if he was ever really suspended. In any event, he is appealing, although he says he does not know the status of his appeal.
The first thing to establish about Bill Green’s story is that, despite all his protests of innocence, he did test positive for more testosterone in his body than the IAAF allows. Although it is a naturally produced hormone--it stimulates gains in strength and speed--excessive levels of it can indicate artificially induced production of it or the supplementary use of it.
Green’s attorneys chose the most difficult road in their appeal. Most appeals challenge a small detail, rather than the entire testing system. Green’s attorneys, however, charge that the entire testosterone test is invalid. And, as is the case in all good mysteries, there is more to be considered.
Green’s appeal is based on his use of another drug, probenecid. Probenecid is commonly prescribed for gout and some venereal diseases. It is often used in conjunction with penicillin because it inhibits the secretion of the antibiotic. In other words, probenecid helps the body retain the penicillin longer.
Some athletes, however, know of another use for probenecid. Just as it blocks the secretion of penicillin into the urine, so does it block the secretion of anabolic steroids. It has been a very effective masking agent.
Green freely admits to having used probenecid, pointing out that at the time it was not banned for use by athletes. It since has been put on the list of banned drugs by many sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Green won’t say exactly why he took probenecid. “What I will say is this,” he said. “I have a personal illness for which I have to contain penicillin in my body.”
His use of probenecid, however, turned up a flaw in the testing system, according to Green’s attorneys and expert witnesses.
Here is their argument:
The lab report on Green’s sample not only showed high levels of testosterone, it also indicated the presence of probenecid.
According to Mitch Mitchelson, one of Green’s attorneys, however, the report said something more.
“The notation on the report is that probenecid is present and, as a result, certain tests that are normally run couldn’t be run,” Mitchelson said. “Because probenecid affects drug tests for steroids. It affects tests for all steroids.
“The chemical structure of testosterone is similar in many ways to the structure of these synthetic steroids, and so it behaves chemically similar to these anabolic steroids. This is what the doctors didn’t consider when they ran the tests.”
The result of a test for testosterone is delivered in a ratio. The mere presence of a narcotic is considered doping because it is not naturally found in the body. Testosterone, however, is always going to show up, so officials have to measure it in relative amounts. It is compared to the level of epitestosterone, another natural hormone found with testosterone in a common ratio.
For example, the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone may normally be 3 to 1. If officials found a ratio of 9 to 1, it would be reasonable to conclude that the athlete took additional testosterone.
That’s where the probenecid comes in, Green’s representatives say.
Since probenecid keeps certain substances in the body, while allowing others to pass through, probenecid prevented the epitestosterone from passing into Green’s urine, but allowed the testosterone to pass, they say.
So, because probenecid screened the epitestosterone, Green’s tests would show a higher--but incorrect--ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone.
Once they discovered this possibility, Green’s attorneys believed they had their case.
Said Greg Raifman, one of the attorneys: “Until the doctors came up with that explanation, we didn’t know why the test results were as they were.”
Mitchelson said: “Probenecid is now on the IOC and IAAF banned list, and they banned it precisely for the reason that it affects these tests for steroids.”
But as Mitchelson, Raifman and Green discovered, having a case was one thing. Finding somewhere to present it was quite another.
The first thing Bill Green did when he was told his A test had proved positive was to call his father, an attorney.
He flew home to San Jose, where Raifman met him at the airport. Since then, Green, Raifman and Mitchelson, have spent several hours a week discussing the progress--or non-progress--of the appeal.
For the attorneys, from the big international law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, this seemed a rather clear-cut case that could be disposed of quickly. They, however, had never dealt with international sport.
“I tried to find out as much information as possible, as quickly as I could, as far as what was involved in the rules,” Raifman said.
His first call was to Ollan Cassell, the executive director of The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for track and field. Cassell directed Raifman to Peter Alkalay, TAC’s attorney.
Raifman and Alkalay talked, on and off, for 6 weeks about what avenues were open to Green. In previous cases, a track athlete who tested positive was suspended for life by the IAAF. On appeal, the suspension was normally shortened to 18 months.
There were several problems, though, with Green’s appeal. First was to determine whom to appeal to.
Was it the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), based in Mexico, the group that had sanctioned the Pan Am Games?
Was it the U.S. Olympic Committee, which controls the American athletes?
Was it the IAAF, which sanctions track and field athletes internationally?
“Any time I contacted one organization, they always said it was somebody else’s problem,” Raifman said.
He began writing letters. The first went to PASO, which conducted the drug testing. In it, Raifman asked for a copy of Green’s test results, the specimens--if they still existed--and he asked for PASO’s rules regarding appeals, and general information on the testing procedures.
Raifman concluded by asking if Green had been suspended by PASO.
He got a brief reply suggesting that he take up the matter with TAC.
TAC officials didn’t see how it was their problem.
USOC bosses said it wasn’t their problem.
And the IAAF could best be approached through TAC.
Raifman also found out that almost no one, even in the highest administrative positions, knew the rules well enough to tell him if Green had been suspended, who had suspended him and from what, never mind asking about appeal procedures.
While the discussions were going on, Green was in Los Angeles, training for the World Championships, set for late August, 1987, in Rome. He had qualified but was not sure he was going.
“I never got one thing in the mail, one piece of correspondence, notification, nothing,” Green said. “Yet, I was under the impression that I was suspended. I was forbidden to go to Rome.”
Green said that a U.S. team official told him he would not be going to Rome. They had no ticket for him.
Green said he was encouraged to prepare a story that he had pulled abdominal muscles and could not compete. A TAC official said he didn’t know why Green was not on the team at Rome.
Green and his attorneys learned months later that he had not been suspended during that time, that an appeal had to be completed before any suspension began.
But they didn’t know it then and the case continued. “Determining what the rules are was like hitting a moving target,” Mitchelson said.
By fall, Raifman and Mitchelson narrowed their sights on the IAAF, but they still didn’t know the rules of the game.
Raifman said: “If you are going to take someone’s livelihood away and you are going to suspend someone and do damage to his career and his reputation, you better be damn well sure what the rules are. That’s all we ever wanted to know--what are the rules? Is he suspended, is he not? Is it TAC or is it IAAF?”
Meanwhile they were exploring other avenues. Mitchelson flew to Indianapolis to get a deposition from Baenziger. They hired an Indianapolis attorney to get Green’s test results and the specimens. After 4 months of work, the Indianapolis attorney finally got the test results, which Green believed he was entitled to review all along.
Raifman and Mitchelson took on Green’s case in addition to their usual caseloads. The firm was providing the work pro bono --for the common good--but still hundreds of thousands of dollars, and countless hours had been invested. Green thought often that if he had been required to pay for the appeal himself, it would simply have stopped months earlier.
Finally, in late February of this year, there was a breakthrough. Green agreed to waive his right to a hearing before TAC, and TAC agreed to take up his cause and represent him before the IAAF Council.
In that role, TAC petitioned the IAAF council to have the matter heard on an expedited basis. It submitted a statement of issues. At last, Green’s case was put on the IAAF Council’s agenda for its meeting in April.
But the council never heard the matter because it decided it was not the body to decide. It ruled that the IAAF Arbitration Panel should hear the matter.
It was 2 months before Green’s attorneys got the names of the panel members. The attorneys submitted many sets of papers stating their case to the members, who were to read the material and then meet in London to vote.
There were frequent telephone conversations with John Holt, the IAAF’s general secretary in London. When Raifman asked if all the panel members had received their material, he was told that, no, not all had but that was OK because some of the panelists didn’t speak English and would have to be replaced. However, the new members would need to be sent new material.
That caused another delay of 2 months. By then it was June and the Olympic trials were a month away. Green had all but given up his hope of being able to compete at trials and make the U.S. Olympic team.
“By January, I knew the Games were over,” he said. “I gave up my true goal in January. In my mind, trials would have been a symbolic effort.”
The panelists never met. A week before the trials, they sent a message saying that they had concluded that they were not the correct body to judge the case. The correct body, they said was the IAAF Council, which had sent the panel the case in the first place. The next scheduled council meeting was to be sometime after the Seoul Olympics.
The panelists also concluded that in order to make a decision--which they weren’t going to do--they would need more scientific input.
Raifman is clearly exasperated talking about it even now.
“Do you know that it took from the end of February until the trials before the IAAF would have a hearing on this and they never, ultimately, had one?” he said.
Mitchelson added: “We gave the IAAF every opportunity to demonstrate that they had a system to govern these appeals. We gave them every chance. We came back and said, ‘What do we do next, what do you want us to do?’
“Given all those opportunities, they could never demonstrate that they had any rhyme or reason for behaving as they did.”
With a week to go until the trials, there was still no one who could tell Green if he was suspended. Mitchelson said he called Holt of the IAAF at home and told him that Green was entitled to a decision before the trials.
Mitchelson said he told Holt: “ ‘The IAAF screwed up. They had two bodies pointing their fingers at each other. No one could decide who should make the decision. What seems unfair to me is that Bill Green should have to pay the price for the IAAF’s indecision. The IAAF should remedy its own internal problems.’ ”
Holt got a few more phone calls and then an angry one early on a Sunday morning. It was midnight in L.A. and the dawn of the day during which the hammer throw was to be contested at the trials.
Mitchelson brought out the big guns. He told Holt that TAC is empowered by federal law to conduct hearings on the eligibility of athletes. He said they believed that the IAAF had assumed TAC’s burden to give Green a fair and timely hearing. He said that their legal opinion was that the IAAF had failed in that and was not living up to the requirements of U.S. law.
Holt paid close attention. Mitchelson said that Holt agreed to raise the matter with Primo Nebiolo of Italy, the IAAF president. In the meantime, Holt said, get Green on a plane to the Olympic trials.
“We said, ‘Look, it’s now 1 in the morning, it’s 8 hours before the competition, he won’t get there anyway,’ ” Raifman said. “ ‘He’s got to go now or he’s not going to make it.’ Holt said, ‘I guess in this situation he’s got to go now.’ We said fine.”
They called Cassell of TAC at his hotel room in Indianapolis to tell him Green was coming. No answer. Finally, at 6 a.m., they got a call from Alvin Chriss, Cassell’s assistant. More red tape.
It was now about 6 hours before the hammer qualifying and Green was in Lake Tahoe. It became clear that he couldn’t make it to Indianapolis in time.
Mitchelson called Holt back. By now the hammer qualifying was over. Holt told Mitchelson that he had been unable to get in touch with Nebiolo.
Mitchelson said: “But, he said, ‘We are willing to proceed with Bill’s case and if necessary impanel a body of medical experts--three that we will appoint and three that you will appoint. They will hear Bill’s appeal.’ Now, this is the third panel we’ve never heard of. Holt said he would not let the matter rest. And that’s where it’s been.”
Green was caught in the switches of a rule change. Under the rules as they existed when he tested positive, Green should have been banned for life and then, after appeal, been suspended for 18 months.
The new rules call for a 2-year automatic ban.
Under what rules is Green being suspended?
“The rules are not crystal clear,” said Alkalay, who represented TAC in Green’s case. “I think there is a need for more clarity. You have to weave your way through the bureaucracy, but it’s manageable.”
Is Green suspended?
Alkalay said Green is ineligible and that his ineligibility started the day he waived his right to a TAC hearing.
“We’re taking the position that he can apply for reinstatement right now,” Alkalay said. “There is sufficient uncertainty about what occurred. Bill’s case should be a special case.”
Special? Maybe. Speedy? No. Resolved? Certainly not so far.