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Nadja Peter Steiner suspended for two years as FEI Tribunal concludes there is no factual circumstances nor evidence proving contamination

Friday, 28 February 2020
FEI Tribunal

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Nadja Peter Steiner with Saura de Fondcombe. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



Swiss showjumper Nadja Peter Steiner has been suspended by the FEI Tribunal until May 2021, after her horse Saura de Fondcombe tested positive to O-Desmethyltramadol during a CSI3*-W event in Tetouan, Morocco in October 2017. 

O-Desmethyltramadol is an opioid analgesic used in humans for the control of moderate to severe pain. It is classified as a banned substance under the FEI Equine Prohibited Substances List. The estimated concentration of O-Desmethyltramadol in Saura de Fondcombe’s sample, collected in Tetouan on 8 October 2017, was 0.5 ng/mL. While Peter Steiner argued that this is a very low concentration, the FEI pointed out that nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) is a common unit for positive findings and cannot be considered as very low. Based on consultations with external expert professor Stuart Paine, the FEI stated that it is scientifically plausible to reach this concentration through contamination. However, the FEI highlighted that a low concentration does not necessarily indicate contamination but could also be found at a certain time slot in the elimination curve after the administration of the drug.

In cases concerning the FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs), a strict liability principle applies – as described in art. 2.1.1 in the FEI Equine Anti-Doping Rules (EAD Rules). The Tribunal referred to O-Desmethyltramadol being a prohibited substance on the FEI List, and its presence in a horse’s body is prohibited at all times. The Tribunal concluded that the FEI had established an adverse analytical finding, and sufficiently proven the objective elements of an offence in accordance with the EAD Rules art.3. 

While the ineligibility for an art. 2.1 EAD rule violation is two years, it can be subject to a potential reduction or suspension. The FEI Tribunal pointed out that: “Once an EAD Rule violation has been established by the FEI, a PR [person responsible] has the burden of proving that she bears “No Fault or Negligence” for the rule violation as set forth in Article 10.4 of the EAD Rules, or “No Significant Fault or Negligence,” as set forth in Article 10.5 of the EAD Rules.”

The Tribunal continued: “In order for Articles 10.4 and 10.5 of the EAD Rules to be applicable, the PR must establish as a threshold requirement how the Prohibited Substance entered the Horse’s system.”

To the Tribunal, Peter Steiner explained that she had not used Tramadol on Saura de Fondcombe – nor on any of her other horses. However, she pointed out that there is widespread use of Tramadol in Northern Africa, including Morocco. Peter Steiner argued that contamination had to be the source of the positive test, and that Saura de Fondcombe most likely had been contaminated with Tramadol during the prize giving ceremony of the Grand Prix the pair won in Tetouan. Supporting this theory, Peter Steiner went on to explain the FEI Tribunal how she had to hand over Saura de Fondcombe to a staff member of the organising committee for the entire prize giving ceremony – which lasted approximately 20-30 minutes. In a photo from the prize giving ceremony, Saura de Fondcombe could be seen licking the staff member’s hand. 

Peter Steiner had tried to get in contact with the person on the picture. However, her attempts were unsuccessful – preventing her from establishing whether or not the person had taken Tramadol and contaminated the horse. Peter Steiner also submitted that even if she had managed to identify the person, that person would never have admitted taking Tramadol and thus having caused a positive finding, or have admitted to anything which would put The Morocco Royal Tour – which was “under the patronage of King Mohammed IV of Morocco” under a negative image.

Peter Steiner argued that the staff in Tetouan was not properly instructed nor supervised by the organizing committee to avoid contact with the competition horses. A situation where she had to hand over her horse, leaving it behind her during the prize giving ceremony, was not under her control and she bore no fault or negligence for the positive finding. Peter Steiner said any further suspension or other sanction would be highly disproportionate and extremely unfair under the given circumstances.

Nevertheless, the Tribunal concluded that Peter Steiner had not managed to establish – on a balance of probability – how the banned substance had entered the horse’s system. The Tribunal could therefore not establish her degree of fault for the rule violation. The Tribunal referred to various CAS panels, where it had been established that the person responsible has to present factual circumstances – speculations or theoretical possibilities are not sufficient. 

The Tribunal stated that: “(…) unfortunately the PR has not provided any factual circumstances nor evidence that the person in question had taken Tramadol: this remains mere speculation. Again while contamination through contact with a person is scientifically possible, not more than this theoretical possibility has been presented to the Tribunal. The Tribunal thus does not find that the PR’s explanation reaches the 51% threshold. In the Tribunal’s view administration remains as likely as contamination, and contamination could have occurred at any other point in time before or during the Event.”

The Tribunal noted that the fact that Peter Steiner had to hand over Saura de Fondcombe, did not change anything in this regard. “From a legal point of view, where the first hurdle has not been met, i.e., establishing the source of the Banned Substance, the Tribunal cannot continue with the second step and evaluate the PR’s degree of fault,” reads the Tribunal’s decision. 

As a result, the Tribunal found that no reduction under the EAD Rules could be warranted – suspending Peter Steiner for a period of two years. As Peter Steiner was provisionally suspended between 9 November 2017 to 8 August 2018, the Tribunal credited this against the period of ineligibility. 

Peter Steiner has the opportunity to lodge an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), to challenge the FEI Tribunal’s decision. 

According to Peter Steiner's lawyer, Dr. Monika Gattiker, the verdict is difficult to understand. In a statement on the Swiss Equestrian Federation’s website, Gattiker says: “Nadja Peter Steiner was instructed to hand over her horse to an unknown employee of the show organizer, a member of the Royal Moroccan Guard, during the 30-minute prize giving ceremony. A show photographer has documented that the horse licked this person’s hand during the prize giving ceremony. Tramadol is widely misused across North Africa and is considered the cocaine of the poor. In this situation, it is known that licking the hand was enough to cause a positive test. Nadja Peter Steiner was unable to contact this person. In an apparent contradiction to the photo evidence, the Royal Moroccan Guard claimed in a letter from April 2018 that the show organizer's employees had had no contact with the horses. Nadja Peter Steiner is held responsible for a process over which she had no control.”

Peter Steiner’s colleagues have already voiced their support to the Swiss rider. One of them is her compatriot Janika Sprunger, who said the suspension “is nothing but a scandal”. Sprunger said riders should be aware that this could happen to anyone. “These doping rules need to get finally adjusted by the FEI to realistic limits where the prohibited substances do not affect the performance of the horse but finally allows a tolerance for external influences which are impossible to control,” Sprunger wrote in her Instagram post. 

Read the FEI Tribunal's decision here.







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