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The Court of Arbitration for Sport announced Friday that it has upheld the five-year ban levied against American hurdler Brianna McNeal for violating anti-doping rules, which will bar her from competing in the Tokyo Olympics and could effectively end her career.
According to details of the case published Friday by the Athletics Integrity Unit, which is the anti-doping arm of World Athletics, McNeal missed a doping test in January 2020 after having an abortion, then changed the date of the procedure on medical forms because she mistakenly thought her doctor had gotten the date wrong.
The AIU charged McNeal, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter hurdles, with tampering. In an April hearing before a disciplinary tribunal, it argued that she had falsified the doctor's notes with an intent to deceive anti-doping officials and avoid being penalized for missing the test. McNeal contended that she was depressed and disoriented after the procedure and made an honest mistake.
In a lengthy Instagram post published Friday evening, the 29-year-old hurdler reiterated that she has never taken a banned substance and criticized the "white European men" at her two disciplinary hearings who tried to explore how she should have acted after her abortion.
"I am being excommunicated from the sport as if I was shooting up drugs my entire career," she wrote. "My peers and I know how screwed up and flawed the system is and this goes below the belt. Where are the people that [are] suppose (sic) to protect the athletes that are doing things right and find themselves in human mistakes?
"I don't like to take it here but I can't help but wonder if I was a white woman, or a European, would I have been met with some sort of consideration?"
The disciplinary panel sided with the AIU in the aftermath of the April hearing and provisionally suspended McNeal in June for five years. She was allowed to compete at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon late last month while her appeal with CAS was pending and finished second in the 100-meter hurdles to qualify for Tokyo.
McNeal will now be replaced on Team USA by Gabbi Cunningham, the fourth-place finisher. Her ban will also preclude her from competing at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
CAS did not release the full text of its ruling, beyond specifying that it had ruled in favor of the AIU and upheld the ban. An attorney for McNeal did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the decision.
According to details released by AIU on Friday, the crux of McNeal's case revolved around her decision to change the date on three doctors' notes by one day, after receiving an abortion at a clinic in California. She underwent the procedure on Jan. 10, but changed the notes to indicate that the procedure took place on Jan. 11. The missed test occurred on Jan. 12.
McNeal argued in the April disciplinary hearing that she decided to terminate the pregnancy because it would have prevented her from competing in the Olympics. She said she was heavily sedated and spent much of the next few days sleeping, which is why she did not hear anti-doping officials arrive for a drug test on Jan. 12.
The AIU, meanwhile, claimed that social media activity suggested that "her physical incapacity on the weekend of the missed test was less serious than how she portrayed it." The anti-doping arm also portrayed McNeal's decision to alter three doctor's notes over the span of several months, without seeking to verify the date with her doctor, as a "drastic and fraudulent step," that a reasonable person would not have taken.
"The athlete never confessed her tampering," the AIU also argued, according to the decision released Friday. "She never volunteered that she had altered the doctor's note and it was only when she was confronted with this allegation by the AIU approximately six months later that she admitted to doing the same."
The punishment in McNeal's case – a five-year ban – is substantial, in part because she had previously been sanctioned before. She was banned for one year by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2017 for a series of whereabouts violations – failing to be available for drug testing. Under anti-doping rules, athletes must inform drug-testing personnel of their location for one hour each day during which they can be tested.
"As a clean athlete, I do not feel protected by this system, but I guess my feelings are irrelevant, because the system just took away my career," McNeal wrote on Instagram. "I am grateful for everybody who has shown me support and compassion, but I will never recover from this heartbreak."
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brianna McNeal out of Tokyo Olympics after five-year ban upheld by CAS