Fagan's two-year ban confirmed


ATHLETICS:ON THE night it came with a further sense of relief – the formal opportunity to admit his guilt, take the punishment, and perhaps now get on with the rest of his life.

As Martin Fagan had already made clear in his own mind, last night’s Irish Sports Council’s hearing into his positive test for the endurance enhancing drug erythropoietin – EPO – was going to be the easy part: he readily admitted to the charge, declined the option of having the B-sample tested, and with that was handed the mandatory two-year ban.

Fagan was never going to say anything otherwise, not when he now realises the positive drugs test was ultimately a cry for help, the result of a desperate low and severe depression he’d allowed himself sink into. He’s got over one battle, which led him to inject himself with EPO in one, irrational moment; but now the 28-year-old has another war to fight, and the purely mental one.

He travelled from his home in Mullingar yesterday to the Dublin hotel where the Irish Sports Council had convened the hearing at the earliest possible convenience, as requested by Fagan himself. Represented on the night were Athletics Ireland, and their chief executive John Foley, the Irish Sports Council, through their chief executive John Treacy, and Dr Una May, head of the Sports Councils anti-doping programme, plus the independent adjudicator who oversees the hearing as part of the anti-doping disciplinary process.

“There weren’t any further complications,” said Paul McDermott, spokesperson for the Irish Sports Council. “It was certainly quick, very prompt, but that was the intention of the athlete involved, to get the matter dealt with as quickly as possible, and of course for that to happen there had to be full co-operation with the athlete.

“EPO is a very serious break of the anti-doping programme, and had to be treated that way. But there was the realisation too that the athlete wanted to get that matter dealt with as quickly possible, and allow him to move on to the next phase here, the personal phase.”

Last night’s statement issued on behalf of the Irish Sports Council merely confirmed as much:

“Athletics Ireland and the Irish Sports Council jointly announce that the Irish Sport Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel has determined that Martin Fagan, an athlete affiliated to Athletics Ireland, has committed an anti-doping rule violation.

“The panel found that, contrary to Article 2.1 of the Irish Anti-Doping Rules, Mr Fagan, tested positive for the presence of a prohibited substance or its metabolite or marker, recombinant erythropoietin (EPO), in a sample of his urine collected on behalf of the Irish Sports Council during out of competition testing at Tucson, Arizona, on the December 10th, 2011.

“Mr Fagan has been sanctioned, subject to his right to appeal within 14 days, by the imposition on him of a period of ineligibility for two years.

“The panel has decided that because of the prompt admission of the violation by Mr Fagan the appropriate commencement date for the period of ineligibility is December 10th, 2011, the date on which the sample was collected.”

Effectively this means Fagan would be free to compete again from December 11th, 2013, when he would still only be 30 – but in the process of outlining his deeper problems to The Irish Times he admitted that getting back into competitive running was the very least of his concerns, and something he wasn’t even contemplating right now.

“Maybe I’ll miss it someday,” he says. “But right now I think back on my career with very little satisfaction. Even making the Olympics in 2008. Running really only became a job. I’d show up at a race and count the runners I could beat, and figure I might make $400. All the fun was gone, all the enjoyment.”

Not being able to get a job, he says, might actually have contributed to his downfall: due to US immigration issues at the end of 2007, he had to give up his student visa and purchase a professional athletes visa, which prohibited any employment; “I would have washed dishes, anything, just to meet new people, just have some life outside of running.”

As well as rebuilding his well-being, mentally first, then perhaps physically – he’ll also be dealing with the quite substantial debt that he’s built up over the past four years. Before leaving America last month he returned his car by voluntary repossession – “which is not a good thing” – yet found himself far more heart-broken about having to give up his dog, too.

But he’s already submitted a CAO application to return for an undergraduate degree, possibly in social work, maybe even counselling.

Fagan realises some people will always accuse him of being a drugs cheat, and he can deal with that; but at least in this next phase of his life nobody can accuse him of not being able to speak from experience.