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Alberto Salazar, the former head coach of the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) who was banned for doping violations in 2019, lost his appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Wednesday. The Court upheld the four-year ban imposed on him two years ago, dashing aside any hopes to return to the sport in the near future or of salvaging his reputation.
Who is Alberto Salazar and what is the Nike Oregon Project?
Salazar rose to international fame in the early ‘80s as a prominent long-distance athlete, winning the Boston Marathon in 1982. He was chosen to head one of the leading track & field clubs in America, the Nike Oregon Project, based out of Beaverton, Oregon. This club boasted some of the best runners in the world, including Alan Webb, Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Mary Cain, Matthew Centrowitz, and Sifan Hassan (who this year in Tokyo won gold in both the 10,000m and 5,000m). The team had resounding success recruiting the world’s top talent, quickly becoming an international fan favorite. Backed by Nike (based nearby in Oregon, and having originally started as a track & field company) they were also equipped with cutting-edge innovations in track spike and running shoe technology year after year.
Unfortunately, trouble arose in 2015 when doping allegations surfaced involving Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. These reports were showcased in a BBC documentary, which eventually led to an investigation into Salazar and his team. Both the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and, in turn, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) scrutinized the team in the years that followed to determine if any violations had occurred. The allegations included whistleblower testimony from one of Salazar’s own athletes, Kara Goucher, which detailed his attempts to use testosterone through a prohibited method and prescription drugs when they weren’t needed. In addition, there were rumors that testing procedures had been tampered with or ignored.
Doping charges were formally brought against Salazar and members of his coaching staff by USADA in 2017. Following an independent investigation, he was found to have trafficked in performance enhancing substances, attempted to administer said substances to multiple athletes, and had tampered with testing protocols required by anti-doping agencies. At all times Salazar denied the allegations as either complete falsehoods or misrepresentations, proclaiming that all actions he had taken were legal and in compliance with regulations.
In 2019, Salazar was escorted off the track in the middle of the World Athletics Championships when a four-year ban was handed down by USADA following its investigation. Subsequently, Nike disbanded the Nike Oregon Project due largely in part to the scandal. The athletes were released to find other teams and, notably, no runner was ever found to have violated banned substance protocols themselves. Salazar maintained his innocence and vowed to fight his ruling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which had been ongoing up to the decision this week.
What exactly is the Court of Arbitration for Sport?
CAS is an international body formed independent of any sports organization for the purpose of resolving sports related disputes through arbitration or mediation. This manner of resolution is similar in form and substance to what is expected from formal judicial proceedings and its decisions have similar effect. However, the procedures can be altered in many ways by agreement of the parties and proceedings are often conducted in a more informal manner.
Any sport related dispute can be submitted to CAS, whether it be of a commercial nature (breach of contract) or of a disciplinary nature (suspension). Cases will often involve bans handed down by anti-doping agencies to athletes or team personnel. The CAS has three divisions: Ordinary (issues brought directly to the court), Appeals (from various agency decisions), and Olympic (tailored specific to each Games as they take place).
Salazar appealed the ruling by USADA to the CAS, hoping to overturn the four-year ban, clear his name, and continue coaching. Unfortunately, with the judgment in favor of USADA passed down by the Court on Wednesday, he will be forced to serve out the remainder of his four-year term before returning to the world of athletics in any official capacity.
CAS is expected to publish a full report of the appeal in the coming days.