World pole vault champion Shawn Barber was allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics despite testing positive for cocaine shortly before the games after a one-night stand with a woman he met online, it has emerged.
In a ruling made public nearly two months after the case was heard, the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) said Canadian star Barber escaped a ban after arguing that the cocaine entered his system after a hotel sex session he arranged via Craigslist.
“I am happy to have this behind me so that I can move on with my career with a free conscience,” Barber said in a statement released via Athletics Canada.
“At no time during my actions, did I even fathom the possibility of being able to be contaminated with cocaine. This is a learning experience that I hope other athletes can learn from as I have,” the 2015 world champion added.
Barber, 22, tested positive for the drug on July 9 after competing at the Canadian Championships in Edmonton, where he won and set a new national record.
According to the SDRCC ruling, Barber arranged his hotel fling via the Craigslist online classified site using a pseudonym on the night before competing in Edminton.
Barber, who requested a “professional” woman who was “drug and disease free” said he sought out the liaison as “a way to relieve stress,” the SDRCC heard.
After rejecting initial replies, Barber set up a meeting with a woman described as a mother of two, who eventually arrived for the tryst accompanied by her boyfriend at the time, who was “around” during Barber’s interaction with the woman.
Unknown to Barber was the fact that the woman had used cocaine before the meeting and that she also snorted the drug during a visit to the washroom.
Barber said his subsequent positive test came as a “complete shock”.
The woman involved later testified on his behalf at a hearing into the drug case.
Barber’s lawyers argued he should escape a ban on the grounds of no fault, noting that he had specifically requested a date with a woman who was disease and drug free.
The athlete’s lawyers compared the case to that of French tennis ace Richard Gasquet, who tested positive for a minute amount of cocaine in 2009 after kissing a woman in a nightclub. Gasquet escaped a lengthy suspension for the test after arguing he was not at fault.
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) had argued for a ban, maintaining that Barber had engaged in risky behaviour by setting up the meeting with the woman.
Barber was at fault on the basis of the “reasonable expectation that athletes should not use the internet and/or third party connections to arrange for sexual encounters in hotel rooms with unknown women they do not know on the eve of a major competition”, according to the SDRCC’s summary of the CCES position.
The SDRCC sided with Barber, ruling that while his behavior “may be viewed as risky, careless and foolish”, he had demonstrated that he had taken enough precautions to avoid contamination with cocaine.
The panel ruled that while Barber was cleared to compete in the Olympics – where he finished 10th after scraping through qualifying – he was stripped of his national title and record.
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