Irish swimmer Robbie Powell banned for doping violation after mixing up skin creams

By Brendan O'Brien

Robbie Powell admitted the violation but maintained it was not intentional, which Sport Ireland have accepted. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Robbie Powell admitted the violation but maintained it was not intentional, which Sport Ireland have accepted. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Irish swimmer Robbie Powell has been handed a one-year ban for a doping violation after Sport Ireland accepted that the then 19-year-old had applied the wrong cream to a skin condition late last year.

The Athlone man is a member of the national elite squad and he was a member of Ireland’s national record-breaking men’s 4x200m freestyle relay at the 2019 FINA World Aquatic Championships in Gwangju last July.

However, his name was absent from the entry list for this year's Irish Open Championship and Olympic trials, due to be held in April until Covid-19 struck. It now emerges that he failed an out-of-competition doping control test on November 28 of last year when testing positive for Clostebol, an anabolic agent and prohibited substance.

Powell admitted the violation but maintained it was not intentional and Sport Ireland duly accepted the argument and decreed that he “bore no significant fault or negligence”.

The 20-year-old provided considerable evidence to support his case. This included a statement, medical records, witness statements, WhatsApp messages with his mother and a coach, and a Fitbit record demonstrating poor sleep over the preceding nights to the test.

There was also a full timeline of events detailing his personal circumstances and swimming schedule leading up to the violation and evidence demonstrating research of previous medicines and supplements taken.

The basis of his evidence was that he had simply used the wrong tube of cream to treat a case of eczema which medical records show he has suffered from since a child.

Powell was prescribed a cream called 'Denvercort' by the Irish team doctor at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina. This does not contain any banned substances. The swimmer was also in possession of a cream called Trofodermin, whose branding and colour is similar, at the time of the failed doping test.

This does contain Clostebol and Powell could not explain, despite contact being made with family, friends, and fellow athletes with whom he has since shared rooms, how he came to be in possession of a cream that appears to be available only in Italy and Brazil.

It was due to a flare-up of eczema that he applied a pea-sized amount of what he thought was Devencort on the day of November 26th or 27th but was instead Trofodermin which is a dermatological cream.

The WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) accredited lab in Rome, which is an expert in Clostebol, confirmed that the concentration found in the athlete's sample – 1.3 nanograms per millilitre - was consistent with that explanation.

Sport Ireland, while concerned with the inability to explain how he came to possess Trofodermin, took the view that it “arguably lends to the credibility of the athlete's explanation as a fabricated explanation may well have sought to explain this anomaly”.

Powell, having established no significant fault or negligence on his part, had what would have been the applicable period of ineligibility of two years halved.

Sport Ireland's reasoned decision on the case argued that “the athlete simply did not realise that the was using an incorrect cream and wanted the itching on his hand to stop”.

It was also accepted that Powell was under a “great deal of stress and pressure” at the time as he was balancing a significant amount of college work for his engineering degree at DCU, had just been added to Swim Ireland's elite panel, and was also coaching part-time.

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