USA men's sevens start Maka Unufe has received a 14-month ban for unintentional use of a banned substance.
Unufe, who has been working on an appeal since testing positive last year, has been unable to play for the USA because of the ban. According to Unufe and USA Rugby medical staff, Unufe inadvertently tested positive for Heptaminol, an amino alcohol that is banned because it is classified as a cardiac stimulant.
Unufe ingested the Heptaminol in a dietary supplement that did not list the substance in its ingredient list.
Here is USA Rugby's statement:
USA Rugby confirms that on July 13, 2018, USA Men’s Sevens player Maka Unufe tested positive for Heptaminol, a banned substance in accordance with World Rugby's Regulation 21 anti-doping policy.
Unufe was taking a dietary supplement, for which he thoroughly reviewed the label and ingredients, which gave no indication to the presence of Heptaminol.
USA Rugby Director of Medical Michael Keating sent the supplement for testing, where it was confirmed the banned substance was present despite not being listed within the product’s ingredients.
Following a number of appeals and hearings, World Rugby acknowledged that Unufe acted without intent; however, in accordance with a strict zero tolerance anti-doping policy, has upheld a 14-month suspension.
As the suspension dates back to the original date of citation in July, Unufe will be eligible for training and competition ahead of the 2020 World Rugby Sevens Series and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Keating, Unufe Comment
USA's Director of Medical, Michael Keating, said the problem lies in the dietary substance industry, but it's up to the athletes to make extra sure they aren't using something that can affect their ability to compete—as with Unufe's case, ignorance of the ingredients is not a defense.
“This is an unfortunate instance of a tainted supplement in an unregulated industry," Keating said. "We urge all athletes to use extreme caution when considering nutritional supplements.”
While Unufe is understandably disappointed, it could be worse. As his ban is back-dated to last July, he will be able to return to the USA team after mid-September.
"This was a really unfortunate circumstance and a huge learning lesson for me," said Unufe. "Because I was afraid to ask for guidance, I've had to face some very difficult consequences.
“In the same way I've learned from this experience, I want to set an example for other athletes in our game and help them understand that it's important to ask questions and seek support from the coaches and staff around them. Rugby means a lot to me and I don't want any future Eagles to sacrifice their opportunity to wear the jersey out of fear of asking for help.”