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The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced on September 16 that it had upheld Alberto Salazar’s four-year coaching ban, issued in October 2019 by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). On Friday, it released the 115-page decision, which details the testimony and evidence included in the case, as well as the reasons why the arbiters upheld the suspension.
CAS also upheld the four-year ban of Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston-based endocrinologist who was paid by Nike as a consultant and treated Oregon Project athletes. Brown’s violations include complicity in Salazar’s possession of testosterone, trafficking testosterone to Salazar, administration of a prohibited method, and tampering with the doping control process.
Both suspensions end in 2023 (September 7 for Brown and October 30 for Salazar), though Salazar is also permanently banned from coaching U.S.A. Track & Field athletes by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct (that decision is subject to appeal).
Salazar, the former coach of the now-defunct Nike Oregon Project, had appealed the USADA decision that found him guilty in 2019 of three violations of anti-doping rules: trafficking testosterone (a banned substance), tampering with the doping control process, and administering infusions of L-carnitine, a supplement that increases energy production from fats, delaying the need to burn glycogen stores. L-carnitine is not a banned substance, but the method and amount by which it was administered to his then-assistant coach Steve Magness violated anti-doping policies.
Although the three-person CAS panel sided with USADA, it noted that the circumstances, the length of hearing, and the allegations made at various stages of the hearing, “as well as the way in which the case was conducted by USADA and that the evidence was presented and, in some cases, later abandoned, seemed to be out of proportion and excessive when compared to the severity and consequences of the [violations] established.”
The court also said that none of the violations directly affected athletic competition and that CAS saw no evidence that the infractions had any effect on the Oregon Project athletes. The full decision elaborates on the l-carnitine infusions received by athletes including Dathan Ritzenhein and Galan Rupp, as well as Salazar’s directive to the athletes to not include the infusions on any of their disclosures to anti-doping officials.
“The tragedy is that it appears Mr. Salazar had a genuine misconception that (in giving NOP athletes IV procedures by infusion bag rather than syringe) he had breached the [World Anti-Doping Code], when he (and they) had not,” the CAS panel wrote. “He did not need to do anything other than state what had happened: the NOP athletes were given compliant procedures. Nonetheless, Mr. Salazar intentionally misled USADA in order to prevent USADA from discovering (what he though was, but was no in fact) an [anti-doping rule violation].”
USADA had also requested that the four-year suspensions be increased, but the court rejected that appeal.
“However, the panel was satisfied that the rules have been properly applied, and that, on the basis of the [violations] found by the CAS panel, the sanctions have been determined in accordance with the relevant version of the [World Anti-Doping Code].”
Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, said in a written statement that the organization is pleased with the CAS decision and hopes it encourages others to report concerns.
“While this CAS case dealt only with technical anti-doping rule violations, the whistleblowers who came forward prompted an ensuing investigation that resulted in a cascading effect, exposing a toxic and unhealthy culture at the Nike Oregon Project, and unacceptable behaviors and practices against athletes that were carried out by people at the top of the program sworn to protect them,” Tygart said.
Salazar, 63, was the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, based in Portland, Oregon, guiding the careers of some of the world’s most-decorated distance runners, including Rupp, who placed eighth in the 2021 Olympic marathon (now coached by Mike Smith, director of Northern Arizona University cross-country and track and field), and quadruple Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, who went on to train under coach Gary Lough. Up until the 2019 world championships, Salazar also coached Sifan Hassan, who won two gold medals and a bronze during an historic showing at the Tokyo Games (now coach by Tim Rowberry), as well as U.S. marathoner Jordan Hasay, now training with former NOP assistant Pete Julian.
No Oregon Project athletes have ever tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. When the ban was issued in 2019, Salazar denied any wrongdoing. Then-Nike CEO Mark Parker, who has since resigned, supported Salazar’s appeal, and although Nike disbanded the Oregon Project, it had also released a statement standing behind the coach: “We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require. Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
But in August, Nike announced that it would strip Salazar’s name from a campus building following the permanent coaching ban issued in July by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
“The nature of the allegations and the finding of a lifetime ban make it appropriate to change the name of the building,” according to a statement from Nike, emailed to Women’s Running in August.
The 2019 USADA documents revealed that Salazar had kept Parker informed via email of the experiments the coach was conducting on his two sons (who were not athletes), rubbing testosterone gel on them to find out how much it would take to trigger a positive drug test. Salazar took up the research, he said, after Rupp expressed concern that a former Nike massage therapist (who had been implicated by another coach in sprinter Justin Gatlin’s 2006 positive drug test), rubbed his neck after an NCAA competition in 2009. Salazar said that his experiments were an attempt to fend off sabotage of his athletes, in the chance that such substances could be rubbed on them after a race to produce a positive drug test.
“Mr. Salazar seemed to take the view that it was permissible to use persons who were not competing at the time or were not athletes (to whom the World Anti-Doping Code applied) as, in effect, ‘guinea pigs’ for testing substances for use with athletes,” the CAS panel wrote. “This may be acceptable for a non-controlled substance, but it is not acceptable for controlled substances, which are also prohibited under the WADC, other than in properly conducted clinical experiments.”
Kara Goucher, a whistleblower in the USADA case, said that she and her husband, Adam Goucher, a 2000 Olympian and also a former Oregon Project member, first went to the FBI with their concerns in 2011, then to USADA in 2013. It wasn’t until a joint investigation published in June 2015 by the BBC and ProPublica that the Goucher and Magness went public with their experiences.
Goucher, now 43 and living in Boulder, Colorado, left the Oregon Project in 2011 after seven years, departing soon after giving birth to her son, Colton, in 2010. It was then that Goucher says Salazar gave her unprescribed Cytomel to lose weight, though the drug is intended to treat an under-active thyroid. Goucher says she didn’t take the Cytomel—she was already taking a prescribed medication for Hashimoto’s disease, which she was diagnosed with before joining the training group. After Salazar had given her the pills, she called her doctor, who told her not to take them, she said.
Goucher originally raised alarm bells to authorities for what she and her husband believed were Salazar’s ongoing attempts to abuse Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), which are granted to athletes by anti-doping agencies to take otherwise banned drugs for diagnosed medical conditions. In the end, Salazar did not receive any penalty for helping athletes manipulate the TUE system to enhance performance.
The CAS panel of arbitrators included Annabelle Bennett, chancellor of Bond University and former judge of the Federal Court of Australia; Philippe Sands, a British and French lawyer and professor of law/director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals at the University College London; and Romano Subiotto, an attorney who specializes in European antitrust law.
The full CAS decision was published after requests for confidentiality and redactions were resolved.
Richard A. Lovett contributed to this report.