A trip to Sochi: keeping the Paralympics free of doping

When I was a first-seat trainee, the senior associate in the office next door had recently come back from the Turin Winter Games where he had advised the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on its doping cases on a pro bono basis.

I listened eagerly to his stories and as an avid sports fan and a keen young lawyer, I volunteered (well more like begged) to help him. Six months later, the senior associate left the firm and convinced me (a ’mere trainee’, I thought at the time) that I was capable to take over his IPC matters under the supervision of a partner.

My first assignment as a newly qualified associate was to represent the IPC on the ground at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. Four years later, I was based in the Olympic Village in Stratford during the London 2012 Paralympic Games advising the IPC on all doping cases and related issues. And this March it was time to pack my bags and head to Sochi, Russia to support the IPC’s Anti-Doping team during the Paralympic Winter Games. 

Emilie Jones
Emilie Jones, Covington & Burling

In Sochi, we only had one doping case: an ice sledge hockey player tested positive for clostebol, a steroid. The substance is included on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List (a list of prohibited substances and methods that is published annually by WADA). 

Presence of a prohibited substance in your body is an anti-doping rule violation under the IPC Anti-Doping Code (which is based on the WADA Anti-Doping Code). Based on the adverse analytical finding reported by the Sochi lab, we opened a case.

The athlete had not registered a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) (a certificate from a physician stating that an athlete needs to take certain medication for a medical condition) and there was no apparent departure from WADA’s international standard for laboratories, so we notified the athlete of the alleged anti-doping rule violation and issued a provisional suspension.  

During the Games, things need to happen quickly. The IPC’s hearing body called a hearing immediately. At the hearing, my role is to put forward the IPC’s case against the athlete as their advocate. The athlete was sanctioned to 18 months of ineligibility and the case was widely reported in the press.

My pro bono work for the IPC has, and still is, extremely rewarding for a number of reasons. First, it has given me the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to a cause that I care a lot about: fighting doping in sport. It is also incredibly rewarding to be part of the Paralympic movement and witness enthusiastic and inspiring athletes achieve their life goals – seeing Kelly Gallagher win Britain’s first Paralympic Winter Games gold medal was fantastic!

Second, taking on the responsibility of being the primary contact for the IPC, an important pro bono client, at an early stage in my career gave me confidence and experience that I have been able to leverage in other aspects of my career too.

Third, I have developed professional skills and expertise in an area outside my daily bread and butter of corporate and commercial work, which has been, and still is, both enriching and stimulating. 

I am glad that I begged that senior associate (who is now the Legal Director of UK Anti-Doping) to help him out all those years ago!

Emilie Jones is a senior associate at Covington & Burling