A positive test is the result of an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) reported by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited laboratory and indicates the presence of a prohibited substance in a player’s urine or blood. This guide sets out the process the ITIA must follow, in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code, and demonstrates some of the ways in which individual cases and timelines may vary.


Testing takes place throughout the year and at events of all levels, Players can be tested both in and out of competition. Tests can be urine, blood, or Dry Blood Spot (DBS), following collection these are split into A and B samples, allocated a unique sample code, sealed at the time of testing, and appropriately stored.


A WADA-accredited laboratory will receive the sample(s), which are anonymised and processed using unique sample codes, for testing. The laboratory will test the A sample for substances that are included on the WADA Prohibited List. Samples are usually tested by the lab within one month of provision but, in certain circumstances, this can take longer.  Labs themselves are subject to strict, ongoing scrutiny by WADA to ensure they continue to meet the requirements of WADA accreditations.


If a prohibited substance is detected in a sample, the laboratory will aim to inform the ITIA within two weeks following additional confirmatory testing.


The ITIA will receive full details of the testing process and result which will then be presented to the independent Anti-Doping Review Board. This group of independent experts will confirm to the ITIA if there is a case for the player to answer.

The prohibited substances are categorised as ‘specified substances’ and ‘non-specified substances’ by WADA – this classification has an impact on the process and potential sanction in a player’s case.


The player will be contacted with the results of the AAF once it has been confirmed.

Initially, the player will receive a ‘pre-charge’ notice from the ITIA setting out the details in relation to the next steps in their case, alongside their options. They are given an opportunity to explain the circumstances which led to the AAF and are invited to have their B sample analysed. Players are entitled to attend this in person at the laboratory or appoint a witness to attend on their behalf.

A player may be invited to attend an interview with an ITIA investigator at this stage (or later in the proceedings).

The player has two weeks to respond to the pre-charge notice.

If applicable, the player may at this stage also seek to apply for a Retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the ITIA’s TUE Committee, who will review whether there was a valid therapeutic reason for the player to have used the prohibited substance which gave rise to the AAF.  If the Committee grants the player a Retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption the case will be closed.


The presence of a non-specified substance in a player’s sample results in a mandatory provisional suspension. At this point, the case is likely to become public as any provisional suspension will be announced by the ITIA. In the case of specified substances, a player may accept a voluntary provisional suspension. Provisional suspensions may be credited against any final sanction.  


The ITIA will review the player’s response to the pre-charge notice (if relevant) and any further requests for information and/or interview. It may then proceed to formally charge the player with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV). In the case of analytical findings (i.e. AAFs from a laboratory), a player is most likely to be charged with use/attempted use and presence of a prohibited substance.


The player has 20 days to respond to the charge letter (which is also the point any provisional suspension is publicly announced) to confirm whether they admit or deny any charges. Often at this stage, a player will engage a lawyer to represent them.


If a player admits to the charge, and thereby avoids the need for a hearing, then they may receive a reduced sanction.


If the player claims the ADRV was inadvertent they may also need to set out the explanation as to the source.

If, for example, they claim that supplements have been contaminated then they will need evidence of this. This may come in the form of external scientific testing of remnant and unopened, new supplements and the ITIA may also conduct its own tests on the supplements. This can be a lengthy process and involve significant communication between the player and their representatives, the ITIA, WADA-accredited laboratories, and other scientific experts who may need to be involved. Often players will request additional time to undertake this research and testing of their supplements.

DECISION & SANCTION (for cases which do not go to tribunal)

The sanction will depend on a number of factors including whether the offence was intentional, the degree of fault or negligence of the player, whether it is the player’s first offence, and the category of substance (i.e., specified, non-specified, or substance of abuse).


If a player denies the charge, a process begins whereby they are required to provide evidence explaining the AAF. Depending on the substance involved, this can also be a lengthy process involving significant communication between the player and their representatives, the ITIA, WADA-accredited laboratories, and other scientific experts who may need to be involved.


Once both sides are satisfied that they have the evidence they need, an independent tribunal is convened. The ITIA uses the independent sports arbitration body Sport Resolutions to run its hearings and the panel is usually made up of up to three legal experts with no links to either side. A hearing can take place remotely or in person and is usually held over one day – although it can be longer if it is a particularly complicated or disputed case.


Once the panel has made its decision, the ITIA will publish the decision on its website and via a media release.


Either side may appeal the decision of Sport Resolutions’ independent hearing panel to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. CAS will conduct another hearing to look again at the evidence and determine if the appellant has demonstrated that the outcome at first instance should be upheld or overturned. The process before the CAS from the time of a player or the ITIA appealing through until receiving the CAS’ decision can take more than 12 months.

Published 09 May 2023 11:00

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