Sri Lankan international cricketer Kusal Perera has had his provisional suspension lifted with immediate effect after the International Cricket Council (ICC) withdrew all disciplinary charges yesterday. The turnaround comes after the WADA-accredited laboratory in Qatar withdrew its original Adverse Analytical Finding after further investigations found that the cause of the finding may have been naturally generated. ‘We wish to make it clear that there is no evidence that Mr Perera has ever used performance-enhancing substances,’ the ICC said in a statement.
Perera was provisionally suspended by the ICC on 9 December last year after a sample provided by the wicketkeeper-batsman on 12 October 2015, as part of an out-of-competition drug test, was found to contain a Prohibited Substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List.
Once Perera’s B sample also tested positive, confirming the presence of the same substance in those samples, Sri Lankan Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera told local media that they would support him with legal representation. At the time, the identity of the Prohibited Substance was not released, which is usual practice following the public disclosure of a violation of the ICC’s WADA-compliant Anti-Doping Code. In yesterday’s statement the ICC confirmed that the substance originally detected was 19-Norandrostenedione, an anabolic steroid prohibited under WADA’s Prohibited List.
In a statement the ICC said that it had been working with Mr Perera’s lawyers since it charged him with an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) in December in an attempt to identify the source of the banned substance in Perera’s samples.
At the time of Perera’s provisional suspension, he was in New Zealand as part of Sri Lanka’s squad to contest a Test series against the host nation. He was sent home from the squad and interim Sri Lanka coach Jerome Jayaratne told local media that they suspected the source of the Prohibited Substance to be some form of medication taken to treat an insect bite on his foot. Perera continued to maintain his innocence and that the source of the Prohibited Substance remained unknown to him. According to reports he even submitted polygraph and hair tests to prove is innocence.
A long-running and detailed investigation into the potential sources of the 19-Norandrostenedione by Perera’s lawyers, the UK-based firm Morgan Sports Law, earlier this month suggested that the Qatar laboratory might have misidentified impurities in Perera’s samples as the Prohibited Substance, due to ‘the very low concentrations’ found in the samples.
A subsequent independent expert review of the findings, commissioned by the ICC, then found that an adverse analytical finding by the laboratory was ‘not sustainable’ because it could not be ruled out that the 19-Norandrostenedione was produced naturally in the player’s body and/or formed in the samples after the player provided them. The Qatar laboratory immediately withdrew the Adverse Analytical Finding and instead reported an Atypical Finding – a false positive.
Perera’s acquittal will provide troublesome reading for WADA, following the recent suspensions of a number of WADA-accredited laboratories in the last few weeks. Whenever a laboratory does not meet International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) requirements, WADA may suspend the laboratory’s accreditation, which it has done for laboratories in Lisbon, Beijing and Bloemfontein. Last week, WADA’s President Craig Reedie released a statement acknowledging that, in light of these suspensions, some athletes ‘might question whether they can retain full confidence in anti-doping sample analysis procedures’.
Perera’s acquittal will no doubt compound such concerns.
Another concern publicly voiced by anti-doping experts is that the overturning of Perera’s suspensions would not have been possible without the diligence, and expense of, a specialist legal team. David McArdle, a Senior Lecturer in Law at Stirling University earlier tweeted that ‘the average athlete can’t afford to do what Perera did’ and called for any positive tests to have come from the Qatar laboratory to be independently tested, adding ‘not by WADA’.
WADA is yet to comment on the ICC’s statement. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) earlier today held a press conference with Perera, the SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala, Sri Lankan Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera and Perera’s manager.
“Now that we have proved beyond reasonable doubt that our player is innocent, and the ICC has agreed with our scientifically approved case that this is right, he [Kusal] has a claim and we will look at it separately,” Sumathipala told the assembled media.
“The ICC has agreed that the tests done of Kusal is not up to the standard. It came out because of our scientific evidence. The evidence that we have given have taken the ICC to a different level of how they should approach this current situation in the future.”
“You must understand however that we, as part and parcel of the ICC, want to continue our role as an ICC member. If the Minister wants to hold a different position separately, we can discuss this in the future.
“I’m sure Sri Lanka cricket will go forward and discuss things with the ICC with regard certain cost, which I would like to refrain from at the moment because I am confident that we got the hard part right.”
Sri Lanka’s national cricket team are currently in the UK preparing for their first Test against England which begins on 19th May at Headingley. In resonse to Perera’s exoneration, former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakarra questioned whether ‘a simple sorry’ was enough for the ‘trauma’ Perera had gone thru and the cricket he had missed. Sangakarra further added that the best way to support Perera now was to ‘get him back playing in England as soon as possible’.
In a final tweet Sangakarra questioned whether Kusal Perera should even have been provisionally suspended in the first place, tweeting that the ‘process should be innocent until proven guilty and players like Kushal should be allowed to play provisionally’.
The process should be innocent until proven guilty and players like Kushal should be allowed to play provisionally
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) May 12, 2016
The observation is a timely one; in March West Indian international Andre Russell missed three doping tests within a 12-month period, constituting a ‘whereabouts failure’ and thereby an anti-doping rule violation under the WADA Code. However the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO), in its discretion, decided not to impose an optional provisional suspension on Russell, deciding to wait instead for the outcome of a disciplinary hearing. This allowed him to compete in both the recent ICC World T20 and the on-going Indian Premier League (IPL). Perera, on the other hand, due to the nature of his Anti-Doping Rule Violation was given a mandatory provisional suspension and missed the World T20.