Former World Junior Champion Suspended From Competition For Drug Test Refusal - Stab Mag

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Former World Junior Champion Suspended From Competition For Drug Test Refusal

Vasco Ribeiro remains ineligible to compete until 2026.

news // Jul 10, 2024
Words by Pedro Ramos
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Note: While Stab attempted to reach out to Vasco Ribeiro for comment on the case, the surfer opted not to speak for the time being.

It was 9:00 PM on April 17, 2022, when Mário Simões, a doping control officer working on behalf of the ISA, rang the bell at the Cascais address provided by Vasco Ribeiro in the Acknowledgement of Receipt form he had signed earlier to confirm his inclusion in the ISA’s Registered Testing Pool (RTP) — comprised of top-level athletes subject to both In-Competition and Out-of-Competition testing.

Showing up unannounced, Simões identified himself and the motive for his visit to the surfer, who was in the presence of his mother. According to Simões, “The athlete just says ‘ok’ and turns his back to me and walks back into the house with his mother.” Moments later, the surfer’s mother returned and told the officer that her son had phoned his coach, who instructed him not to do the test.

Simões claims that he warned the surfer’s mother of the gravity of refusing the test and its consequences, although the surfer’s mother refutes that the officer ever mentioned what an actual sanction could entail. By 9:11 PM, Ribeiro returned to the front gate and maintained his refusal because, as Simões stated, “He has spoken with his coach on the phone and his coach has instructed him to refuse to do the test because the athlete had been drinking alcohol on the previous night.”

A room Ribeiro won’t be seeing for a while. Photo: Pedro Mestre/WSL

According to Simões, the surfer asked to classify the event as an “Unsuccessful Attempt” rather than a “Refusal,” which was vehemently rejected by the officer. Simões then asked if he could speak to the surfer’s coach, but this request was also refused by the surfer. Ribeiro declined to sign a Doping Control Form or provide a written reason for the refusal, retreating back to the house and ignoring yet another attempt by the officer to convince him not to refuse the test and to allow contact with his coach, identified in the court documents as Nuno Telmo.

Simões didn’t see the surfer again, although his mother returned outside to reiterate that her son would not be taking the test as per his coach’s instructions.

According to official court documents, on May 24, 2022, the International Testing Agency notified the athlete on behalf of the ISA that it was considering asserting an Anti-Doping Rule Violation against him. Ribeiro was invited to provide written submissions, which he did on June 15, 2022.

Ribeiro explained that he is a single parent with two young girls and that around April 17, 2022, he was having a hard time with his girlfriend. To cheer him up, friends in the surfing community had organized a party on April 16, 2022, where he consumed alcohol and was also offered and used cannabis and cocaine.

He further explained that when Mário Simões came to test him, he was putting his daughters to bed and was startled by what he had consumed the night before. Ribeiro said he was stressed, anxious, and unable to think clearly. He claimed he was unaware of the consequences of being included in the ISA’s Registered Testing Pool and that refusing to submit to sample collection could constitute an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV). He added that the lack of anti-doping education provided by the Portuguese Surfing Federation had influenced his decision-making process.

In his defense appeal, Ribeiro fully acknowledged consuming prohibited substances the night before refusing the test and made himself available to cooperate in further disciplinary proceedings. He also cited the economic and professional impact that an inability to compete could have on his life as a single parent. Additionally, he made himself available in the days following the test request to prove that he hadn’t consumed any prohibited substances other than those at the aforementioned party.

On July 13, 2023, the Anti-Doping Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) imposed a 3-year suspension on Ribeiro and disqualified all results achieved since April 17, 2022, which included a runner-up finish at a QS3000 event in Portugal.

At the time, Ribeiro issued a statement that read, “Today I was informed that I will be suspended from competing professionally for three years for missing anti-doping tests. The time has come to accept the consequences of my actions and publicly say that I was wrong: I missed the tests because I had a drug use problem.” He added, “Over the past year, following treatment and professional help, I have risen from a very low point in my personal and sporting life. Over the past year, I have been a better father, son, and friend. Throughout the past year, I’ve been training like never before.”

Ribeiro continued, “To all those who supported me and keep supporting me in these troubled times, a big thank you. I will come back stronger, more motivated, and even more determined.”

On August 3, 2023, Ribeiro lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). A hearing was held on January 18, 2024, at the CAS headquarters, with the International Testing Agency (ITA) representing the ISA. Following the hearing and review of written submissions and evidence, on June 17, 2024, CAS upheld that the athlete had violated anti-doping rules by refusing to provide a sample for testing, as outlined in Article 2.3 of the ISA Anti-Doping Rules.

Ribeiro’s decision to decline the test proved to be a critical mistake. Unbeknownst to him, refusing a test is considered a more serious offense than testing positive for substances like cocaine or marijuana outside of competition. The ISA’s anti-doping code, specifically section 10.2.4.1, states that athletes who can prove their use of prohibited substances occurred out-of-competition and was unrelated to sport performance face a three-month period of ineligibility. Ironically, had Ribeiro taken the test and returned positive results, he likely would have received a significantly lighter penalty.

Nevertheless, the court took into consideration Ribeiro’s limited education regarding the testing process and its consequences, ultimately reducing the maximum penalty from four years to three years.

Vasco Ribeiro, on top of the (junior) world in 2014. Photo: Damien Poullenot/WSL

Firm of limb and wind, Vasco’s brand of power surfing had him touted as Portugal’s next great hope. He became the country’s youngest national champion at 17 years of age and went on to win a record four more titles — both records hold to date. In 2014, after becoming European Champion, Vasco strangle-held Italo Ferreira with a combination to become World Junior Champion at Ribeira d’Ilhas, not too far from Praia da Poça, the compact Cascais beach where he grew up surfing.

Ribeiro was defeated by Italo in the Semifinals of the ​​Rip Curl Pro Portugal the following year, achieving an impressive 3rd place finish as a CT wildcard.

The last few years have proved challenging for the now 29-year-old. In 2022, he announced a break from surfing to focus on his mental health. On his return, Vasco was surfing a Moroccan slab with good friend Ramzi Boukhiam when he fell inside a barrel before connecting face-first with a rock. “I lost consciousness, and for the first time (in my life), I thought I was going to drown!” he wrote. 

Ramzi, Achraf Bakhcha, and a local named Ismael proceeded to rescue Vasco and bring him to the hospital, where 50 stitches were administered to his face. On Instagram, Ribeiro wrote, “Thank you very much to my entire Moroccan family, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here writing this post.”

Ribeiro joins a miniscule group of surfers who have been suspended from professional competition. Raoni Monteiro and Neco Padaratz were both suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, while Mark Richardson was retroactively punished and stripped of his gold medal two years after winning the 2011 ISA World Championship for smoking a doobie.

Not long after Andy Irons’ passing, reportedly due to a combination of a heart attack and drugs in his system, the ASP announced their own Drug Testing Policy, which benefited from additional funding and resources when the organization was acquired by ZoSea. To date, there are no public records of surfers flagged in these tests.

Given the rarity of these cases, one might assume that most professional surfers are straight edge, right?

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