The Philippines rejoiced just a week ago as the country’s basketball heroes, Gilas Pilipinas, clinched a historic gold medal at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou. However, that jubilation quickly turned to shock and disappointment when news broke on a Friday the 13th that Justin Brownlee, the standout player who played a pivotal role in Gilas’ triumph, had failed an anti-doping test.
he International Testing Agency (ITA), mandated by the Olympic Council of Asia to oversee anti-doping efforts at the Asian Games, detected an “Adverse Analytical Finding” in a sample collected from Justin Brownlee. The finding revealed the presence of Carboxy-THC, a substance linked to cannabis, on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. This revelation sent ripples through the sports world and the Filipino fanbase that had rallied behind Brownlee and Gilas Pilipinas.
The sample was obtained on October 7, just a day after Gilas’s thrilling victory over Jordan in the gold medal game. Brownlee, who was currently in the United States, was promptly informed of the test result. He now has the option to request the analysis of his B-sample, a standard procedure in anti-doping testing.
The fate of Brownlee now rests on the decision of the Anti-Doping Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS ADD), which will handle the adjudication of this case under the OCA Anti-Doping Rules. His situation raises questions about his future and legacy in basketball, not to mention the implications for Gilas Pilipinas.
The Asian Games were not without other cases of anti-doping violations. Nine other athletes, including Ariana Patrice Evangelista, a Philippine cyclist, and Sami Bzai, a Jordanian basketball player, also returned adverse findings. Evangelista tested positive for erythropoietin, a performance-enhancing substance, and has been provisionally suspended. Meanwhile, Bzai tested positive for a non-specified prohibited substance, dehydrochloromethyl-testosterone metabolite, an anabolic steroid.
In the midst of this controversy, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino has engaged with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the governing body for basketball in the Philippines. SBP officials explained that Brownlee had been using medication to manage lingering injuries, which might have contributed to the adverse finding. However, the exact type of medication was not disclosed during the interview.
One critical question that emerges from this situation is whether Gilas Pilipinas’ gold medal is at risk of being revoked. According to Tolentino, Article 11.2 of the Anti-Doping Rule of the International Olympic Committee suggests that the gold medal stays with Gilas unless two or more team members are found to have committed an anti-doping violation. As of now, Justin Brownlee is the only Gilas player with an adverse finding, so the gold medal should remain with the team, barring any new developments.
The legal implications of Brownlee’s case hang in the balance. Brownlee is currently provisionally suspended, but he has until October 19 to contest the result through the appropriate procedures set by the International Olympic Committee, ITA, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. If the B-sample also returns a positive result, he faces a two-year suspension from international competition, which would rule him out of playing for Gilas until 2025.
The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where Brownlee also plays as an import for Barangay Ginebra, has yet to issue a statement on the matter. It is conceivable that the PBA is waiting to see how the situation unfolds before deciding on any course of action. In 2018, Kiefer Ravena tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance during a FIBA World Cup qualifier and was suspended for 18 months by FIBA, which the PBA also followed due to the ban covering all leagues worldwide. The Asian Games falls outside FIBA’s jurisdiction, and the response of the PBA remains uncertain.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brownlee’s future, one thing seems clear: his legacy is unlikely to be significantly tarnished. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has defended him, suggesting that his medication for injuries may be the cause of the adverse finding. Brownlee remains beloved by Filipino fans, and the hope among Barangay Ginebra supporters is that they will see him back on the court when the 2023 PBA season kicks off next month.
In the world of sports, triumphs and challenges often go hand in hand, and Justin Brownlee’s case serves as a reminder of the complex issues surrounding anti-doping measures and their impact on athletes and their legacies. While the future remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: the Philippines will continue to support and stand by its athletes, whether they’re on the court or facing adversity off it.