Thursday, February 12, 1998
Rebagliati still golden
Arbitration board unanimously exonerate Canadian
Today, the medal is back where it belongs -- draped from Rebagliati's neck. And that is where it will stay after an independent arbitration board totally exonerated Rebagliati.
In a stunning ruling released last night, the arbitration board unanimously quashed an IOC ruling to disqualify Rebagliati and strip him of his snowboard gold medal.
The ruling was an unequivocable exoneration of Rebagliati. Not only will Rebagliati keep his gold medal, but he will face no sanctions or penalties whatsoever for testing positive for marijuana.
"I just want to thank everyone for all the support around the world," said Rebagliati, 26, of Whister, B.C. "Now I just want to go home and get a good night's sleep."
The arbitrator's ruling went beyond what the COA had requested when it launched an appeal of the disqualification. They had asked the panel to return the gold medal, but impose a severe reprimand.
"It was an absolute, clear reversal of the executive board of the IOC," said Carol Ann Letheran, chief executive officer of the COA. "The panel said the athlete should not have to undergo any embarrassment and his record should not be tarnished in any way."
The decision is final and binding on all parties. Rebagliati was said to be ecstatic by the ruling. Letheran gave him the news by phone shortly after he left a local police station, where he had undergone seven hours of questioning.
"There was no legal basis for the IOC's ruling," said John-Pierre Rochat, the general secretary for the board of arbitrators. "The arbitrators were unanimous. The legal question was very clear."
Rochat said that according to the IOC's own rules a sanction can only be imposed on an athlete if there is an agreement between the respective sports federation and the IOC. In this case, the sports federation is the International Ski Federation. Since the IOC and FIS have no agreement to cover marijuana use, the IOC had no right to disqualify Rebagliati, said Rochat.
The head of the FIS, Marc Hodler, admitted to the panel that the FIS did not ask IOC doping control officers to test for marijuana. Further it would not have supported marijuana testing in that sport. The ski federation's guidelines regarding marijuana and the penalties for its use are vague and confusing and, it seems, impossible to fairly apply across the board.
The three-man panel was comprised of lawyers from the U.S., France and Poland. Their decision should not be interpreted as an endorsement of marijuana, said Rochat.
"The clear message is that if international sports bodies want to apply for sanctions against such things as marijuana, they must specify clearly that marijuana is a forbidden substance, he said."
Rebagliati made a personal petition to the panel during a 2-1/2 hour meeting two nights ago. He told the panel he had not used marijuana in 10 months but he lives in an environment where marijuana use is common. He believes the minute traces of marijuana in his system were a result of second-hand smoke.
He tested positive for cannabis after winning the gold medal Saturday night in the snowboard giant slalom.
But whether or not Rebagliati used marijuana became irrelevant. Even if he tested positive way beyond the accepted limit, he would have probably escaped sanctions, said Letheran. The issue, she said, was not whether Rebagliati used marijuana, but whether the IOC had a legal right to disqualify him for testing positive for the drug.
The panel unanimously concluded that it did not, so today Rebagliati is the guy in Nagano wearing the big smile and a shiny gold medal.