The curious case of Salwa Eid Naser’s missed drug tests deepened on Sunday when it emerged she was allowed to run at the world championships last year despite missing three tests beforehand and was provisionally suspended only after missing a fourth in January.
The Athletics Integrity Unit, which oversees drug-testing cases in track and field, said Naser was under scrutiny for three “whereabouts failures” before her world championship victory in Doha, where the 22-year-old ran 48.14sec to take a stunning gold medal in the third-fastest 400m time in history.
Normally three missed tests in 12 months would lead to an immediate suspension and the AIU did not explain why it had taken eight months to provisionally suspend Naser. Responding to media requests about how it had been allowed to happen, the AIU issued a statement that added little clarity.
“The investigation into Ms Naser’s three whereabouts failures in 2019 was ongoing at the time of the Doha world championships and she was not provisionally suspended at that time,” it read. “Following conclusion of the investigation and a fourth whereabouts failure in January 2020, a notice of charge was issued and Ms Naser subject to an immediate provisional suspension.”
Athletes guilty of whereabouts failures face a two-year ban, which means Naser could be stripped of her world title and miss the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Naser, who was born and raised in Nigeria but competes for Bahrain, insisted on Saturday that missing three tests “is normal”.
“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” she said on an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”
The provisional suspension is the latest in a series of cases against Bahrain’s elite squad of female runners originally from African countries. The Olympic steeplechase champion, Ruth Jebet, was banned for four years in March for EPO and the Olympic marathon runner-up, Eunice Kirwa, got a four-year ban last year.