The International Disciplinary Court of the FIM has reached a decision at last. Andrea Iannone has been found guilty of having a banned substance in his bloodstream, and suspended from competition for 18 months.
The ban is backdated to December 17th, 2019, meaning that Iannone will be eligible to compete from June 16th, 2021.
The ban of 18 months is a reduction from the maximum allowed by the rules of 4 years, and an acknowledgement that Iannone did not ingest the banned substance – anabolic steroid drostanolone – with intent.
According to a press release from Aprilia, the court accepted that drostanolone ended up in Iannone’s urine sample due to food contamination.
But the court ruled that, as the FIM anti-doping rules clearly state, riders are responsible for everything that enters their body, and they have a duty to avoid anything which might cause accidental contamination.
That includes being aware that products that appear on the FIM list of banned substances are used in the production of meat in certain parts of the world. Iannone’s defense that he ingested drostanolone accidentally, while eating steak during the Pacific flyaways, was not considered sufficient.
Iannone will now appeal to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the current outbreak of the coronavirus is likely to hamper the progress of any appeal.
The CAS has suspended all in-person hearings until May 1st, and with the outbreak still spreading in Switzerland, further delays are quite possible. Getting a hearing before he has served a large part of his disqualification period may prove difficult.
Aprilia has committed to standing behind Iannone. In a press release, Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola pointed to the court’s finding that Iannone had not intentionally ingested the banned substance, and expressed surprise that this did not result in Iannone being cleared completely.
“The judges recognised Andrea’s complete good faith and unawareness of assuming the substance, confirming the food contamination argument,” Rivola stated. “For this reason, the penalty imposed does not make any sense.”
“In light of the motivations written by the judges themselves, Andrea should have been acquitted, as has always occurred to other contaminated athletes, but this situation leaves us a lot of hope for the appeal which we hope will be very quick.”
“We want Andrea back on his Aprilia RS-GP. We will be by his side all the way to the end of this matter and we will support him in his appeal.”
Despite Aprilia’s expression of support, what this means for Iannone’s career is uncertain. Under normal circumstances, an 18-month ban would mean he would be unlikely to return to MotoGP. But the COVID-19 outbreak has shaken things up considerably, making everything uncertain.
Even if racing only starts very late in 2020, it will be difficult for Iannone to find a seat in MotoGP. By the time he will be eligible to race again, he will be almost 32 years old. And becoming eligible in June 2021 means that most of the seats will already be occupied by riders with two-year contracts for 2021 and 2022.
Anyone signing Iannone for the 2022 season will be taking a major gamble that Iannone still has the motivation and the ability to compete. They will be choosing between an unknown quantity in Iannone with a relatively short remaining shelf life, and a young Moto2 rider with potential to be a long-term star.