Andre Onana, the first team goalkeeper for AFC Ajax (“Ajax”) and the Cameroon national team played his first competitive match for over nine 9 months on 13 November 2021, when he started for Cameroon in a 4:0 victory over Malawi in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 African Qualifier.
Prior to this match, Onana had been subject to a 9-month suspenion from all football-related activity for violating anti-doping regulations. Due to the nature of the suspension, Onana was only permitted to return to first-team training in September 2021 and in fact only resumed first-team training of any kind on 28 October 2021, when he joined up with the Ajax senior side, following a short spell training with the Ajax U21s.
On 5 February 2021 AFC Ajax (“Ajax”) announced that the Union of European Football Associations’ (“UEFA”) Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body (“CEDB”) had sanctioned Andre Onana with a 12-month suspension from all football-related activity for violating UEFA’s Anti-Doping Regulations 2018 (“UADR”) (since replaced with UEFA’s Anti-Doping Regulations 2021). Despite written reasons being mandatory for doping-related decisions (UEFA Disciplinary Regulations 2020, article 52.4), written reasons for UEFA’s CEDB’s decision are yet to be released.
It is known though that Onana’s UADR violation related to an ‘Out of Competition’ sample provided by Onana to a UEFA Doping Control Officer on 5 October 2020 pursuant to Ajax’s participation in the UEFA Champions League at the relevant time (UADR, article 2.1). Onana’s sample tested positive for the presence of Furosemide, a diuretic, non-performance-enhancing drug but which can be used as a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs. At the relevant time, Furosemide was a ‘Prohibited Substance’ at all times and also a ‘Specified Substance’ under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (“WADA”) Prohibited List January 2020 (UADR, article 5). Accordingly, Furosemide was prohibited at all times, whether ‘In Competition’ or ‘Out of Competition’.
In the announcement made by Ajax on 5 February 2021, it was also announced that Onana was to appeal against UEFA’s CEDB’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) (UADR, article 20.2), seeking a reduction to or removal of the 12-month suspension. Onana’s position from the beginning and ultimate reason for appealing to the CAS was stated as:
‘On the morning of October 30, Onana was feeling unwell. He wanted to take a pill to ease the discomfort. Unknowingly, however, he took [Furosemide], a drug that his wife had previously been prescribed. Onana’s confusion resulted in him mistakenly taking his wife’s medicine, ultimately causing this measure to be taken by UEFA against the goalkeeper’.
Similarly, on 2 June 2021 Ajax made a further announcement which stated:
‘Onana turned in a positive doping test at the end of 2020 which was a result of him accidentally taking a pill meant for his wife that he had thought was an aspirin. That pill contained the banned substance, Furosemide’.
Onana was partially successful in his appeal to the CAS. While written reasons for the CAS’s decision are not yet available, the CAS and Ajax announced on 10 June 2021 that Onana’s 12-month suspension from all football-related activity had been reduced to a nine-month suspension due to Onana demonstrating ‘no significant fault´ in respect of his UADR violation.
This article will consider (i) the regulatory framework applicable to Onana’s UADR violation; and (ii) why the reduction of Onana’s 12-month suspension from all football-related activity to nine months was appropriate.