For the first time in the history of sports in this country, a player has taken a national federation to court over a doping offense, and has won.
Former national team player Jared Higgs went as high as the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, challenging the four-year ban that was imposed on him by the Bahamas Football Association (BFA) through hearings of the BFA Disciplinary Committee and the BFA Appeals Committee. It all stems back to his failure to show for a mandatory pre-competition anti-doping test in January of 2017, about a month before the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Beach Soccer Championships, and three months ahead of the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) Beach Soccer World Cup, both held in The Bahamas.
Higgs was a training member for Team Bahamas for both events, and cited no knowledge of the mandatory drug test until receiving notification from BFA Vice President Jason McDowall via a Whatsapp message on the same day of the said mandatory test. Higgs said it wasn’t until six months later, June of 2017, when he received a notice of a provisional suspension for missing a mandatory test. After a confrontation with BFA Vice President McDowall at a local beach soccer league match, he went before the BFA Disciplinary Committee which upheld the decision, stating that the suspension would stay in place until the anti-doping test was taken, and further imposed a ban of four matches and a $40 fine for conduct it considered detrimental toward McDowall.
Seeking retribution, Higgs took the case to the BFA Appeals Committee which ruled that a ban of four years would be imposed in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Code and FIFA’s Anti-Doping Regulations.
Higgs said he and his attorney Vincent Wallace-Whitfield were left with no choice than to go to CAS – the world’s highest court for matters in sport.
“I’m very pleased that the courts saw things the way I did,” said Higgs yesterday. “I never doubted my innocence and was extremely confident that CAS would see things my way. I’m disappointed that the BFA would hire two foreign attorneys, and insist that the matter be heard by three arbitrators. That money could have been spent on growing the sport locally.”
Higgs cited that the decision of the BFA Appeals Committee was not timely or reasoned and its conclusions were not supported by evidence of its assertion that he had committed an anti-doping violation; that the decision failed to consider or render a decision on the second ground of the appeal regarding the suspension and fine for allegedly abusive language used by himself against McDowall; and to impose a ban of four years in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code was erroneous and excessive when considered among the schedule of offences, penalties and fines attached to the BFA Code of Conduct, among others.
In response, the BFA submitted that it takes the education of its players in doping-related matters very seriously, and regularly holds seminars and workshops for its players and staff so that they are aware of the regulatory framework, the obligation for players, applicable sanctions and the fundamental importance of the fight against doping; that in 2016 and 2017, all players in the national training program were told and informed regularly about the importance of medical and doping tests, in particular in preparation for the upcoming beach soccer events; that the players were all informed that doping control testing could occur at any time, any place and anywhere according to the international standards; and furthermore that every player was informed that the doping tests were mandatory and that a missed test would constitute an anti-doping violation which was subject to a a sanction.
The CAS Panel determined that with no evidence as to how or when the Appealed Decision Notification Letter was sent to Higgs, it cannot determine whether his submission that he received it an untimely manner is false. Given the severity of the sanction he received from the BFA Appeals Committee, the panel determined to accept his version of the facts.
Furthermore, the panel stated that it was not convinced that the sample collection foreseen on January 17, 2017, the initial pre-competition testing date, was for anti-doping purposes. It stated that any anti-doping testing by the BFA must comply with FIFA Anti-Doping Regulations, the World Anti-Doping Code and the International Standard for Testing and Investigations, and in Higgs’ instance, it did not. Accordingly, the panel concluded that Higgs’ failure to participate in the testing cannot be qualified as an anti-doping violation since the sample collection was clearly not for anti-doping purposes. The panel stated that the original purpose of the testing cannot be substituted with another purpose at a later point in time. It stated that it must be clear from the outset of the subject of the test, for what purpose the testing is being conducted, and consequently, what rules shall apply to it.
In that vein, Higgs’ four-year ban that was imposed by the BFA Appeals Committee was revoked, but the four-matches ban and $40 fine penalties that were levied by the BFA Disciplinary Committee, were upheld.
Higgs blasted the leadership of the BFA, which could not be reached for comment yesterday.
“It is clearly evident that a change in leadership at the BFA is warranted to ensure that other players are not discriminated against in this way, and to further the growth of the sport in The Bahamas. The association’s president has had more than 20 years to grow the sport. Today, we are ranked at the bottom in FIFA’s world rankings. That speaks for itself,” he lamented.
The Bahamas is at number 35 in the CONCACAF region, and ranked at number 210 worldwide out of 211 member nations of FIFA, according to the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
As for legal fees and other expenses of the case, the CAS Panel determined that having taken into account the outcome of the arbitration, in particular the fact that Higgs’ appeal has been upheld, it considers appropriate that the BFA bear the complete cost of the arbitration. Separately, again noting the outcome of the matter, and the legal fees and costs associated therewith, the panel ruled that the BFA shall pay Higgs an amount of CHF 5,000 (five thousand Swiss francs) as a contribution toward the costs and other expenses Higgs incurred in connection with the arbitration proceedings.