Graham O’Grady cleared by Sports Tribunal but stripped of his Tauranga title

Graham O’Grady, cleared by the NZ Sports Tribunal for a positive morphine test, likely ingested the substance through poppy seed bread, missing key races during the legal process.

Graham O’Grady cleared by Sports Tribunal but stripped of his Tauranga title

Triathlete Graham O’Grady has today been cleared of any wrong doing following a positive drug test following his win at the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman in January. In a case described as unusual’ by the NZ Sports Tribunal, it turns out everyday poppy seeds were likely to blame.

In a decision welcomed by Triathlon New Zealand and O’Grady, the Sports Tribunal ruled there was ‘no fault’ by O’Grady regarding the positive test for morphine following his win in Tauranga earlier this year. The finding and clear judgement in his favour means the 28-year-old will not serve a suspension.

Following routine testing at the event, O’Grady recorded morphine at 1.4ug/ml against a WADA threshold of 1.2ug/ml and a combined uncertainty standard of 0.1ug/ml at the WADA threshold. The Tribunal, however, came to their conclusion that Graham O’Grady was at no fault’ after hearing evidence from respective counsel last week and accepted the source of the small amount of morphine was likely to be gluten-free poppy seed bread consumed by O’Grady in the lead up to the event.

The case saw evidence tabled showing that poppy seeds are a potential source of morphine once metabolised in the body. Indeed the Tribunal made comment on the ‘unusual’ nature of the case in coming to its decision in support of O’Grady, an outcome fully supported by Triathlon New Zealand.

Triathlon New Zealand President Garry Boon said the process has been rigorous but fair.

“At no time has Graham shied away from his responsibilities through this process, nor has Tri NZ, a national sporting body that has and will continue to be a great supporter of the drug free policy in sport. Tri NZ stands by Graham now as we have done throughout the process. Today’s decision is a welcome one for an athlete we believe has a long and bright future in the sport. This is not a case of a drugs cheat, but a case of an athlete falling foul of a very strict process with a breach so minor it is clearly not performance enhancing, either in the substance itself or in the manner in which it was ingested.

“The positive test and the manner in which the morphine came to be in Graham’s sample do however highlight the need for vigilance by all athletes and to be 100% aware of what is being ingested. Indeed this hearing has highlighted new and growing evidence for Drug-Free Sport NZ and athletes to consider in the future.”

Graham O’Grady was clearly very distressed at the positive test but at no time sought an unfair advantage nor to cheat opponents in any way and is pleased with the Tribunal has exonerated him with a finding of ‘no fault’, although disappointed to still lose his title despite that finding.

“I did not knowingly take any substance containing morphine, nor have I ever taken any performance enhancing supplement of any sort,” said O’Grady. “I am relieved and delighted that the tribunal has found I was not at fault in this situation, one they described as ‘unusual.’

“It appears that my only offence was consuming gluten-free Corn and Poppy Seed bread from a supermarket in the few days leading up to, and the morning of my race in the Tauranga Half Ironman 2011.

“I totally support the work of Drug-Free Sport NZ and the World Anti-Doping Agency in keeping our sport clean and fair. I understand that, as a professional athlete, it is my responsibility to control what I put in my body and to ensure I don’t take any risks, especially in the lead-up to a race. It did not cross my mind that a few pieces of bread constituted a risk of any sort.

“My win at the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman is the highlight of my career to date and for that to be taken away is incredibly gut-wrenching and humiliating. While I have now been cleared to compete, I have already missed two key races on my competition schedule – the New Plymouth Half Ironman and Abu Dhabi, due to prolonged legal proceedings.

“I have dedicated my entire adult life to the sport and am heading into what I hope will be the prime of my sporting career. This has been a very difficult time but I want to thank my family, sponsors and supporters including Triathlon New Zealand for standing by me throughout recent weeks.

“It has been a high price to pay for a few slices of bread and I only hope that my situation has raised awareness for other athletes in New Zealand.”

While found to have ‘no fault’, O’Grady has suffered as a consequence, effectively being ‘suspended’ throughout the hearing process and missing significant events. O’Grady will also be stripped of his title in Tauranga and the prize money won, something that is mandatory in the rules governing such a breach, regardless of the ‘no fault’ finding. This will promote Callum Millward to first place on the day, and with it the title of New Zealand Long Course Champion.