UPDATE: Almost 90 veteran, Iditarod mushers – some active, some retired – have now signed onto a statement calling on the Iditarod Trail Committee to reveal the name of a musher accused of doping his dog team this year.
The complete statement from Iditarod Official Finishers Clubs can be found here. More than 30 mushers were at an emergency meeting at which the statement was drafted Sunday, and about 50 signed on later.
Action came on the heels of the International Federation of Sleddog Sports castigating the Iditarod Trail Committee for its handling of a 2017 race doping case, the Iditarod Official Finishers Club appears poised to launch a demand for full transparency.
A draft press release calling for disclosure of who doped and what exactly the ITC knows about it was circulating Sunday night after an unusual special meeting of an organization limited to those who’ve successfully made it from Anchorage to Nome behind a dog team on the historic, 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail.
“By a unanimous vote of those in attendance, the IOFC vehemently denounces the doping of dogs in any form,” the draft of the press release obtained by craigmedred.news says. “Furthermore, the IOFC does not support how the ITC has handled this issue. The IOFC unanimously demands the release of Musher X’s name within 72 hours and is asking for complete transparency moving forward.”
Musher X is the dog driver accused of giving his dogs tramadol, a pain-killing opioid, sometime within 15 hours of the end of the race this year. Iditarod defending and three-time champ Mitch Seavey of Sterling has suggested the doping might have been sabotage, but most mushers aren’t buying that.
The roll call attached to the draft press release (reprinted in full below) contained some big Iditarod names, including Seavey and four-time champ Jeff King from Denali Park.
“It is unacceptable that multiple dogs tested positive for a drug in a single musher’s team and that information was only recently made public when it was known since shortly after the team finished,” the draft says. “The IOFC unanimously supports a strong policy regarding the use of illegal drugs but finds the rewrite of Rule 39 wholly inadequate. The IOFC would like to see a more comprehensive drug policy written that clearly outlines the procedures that Iditarod should follow in the event that a dog or musher tests positive for banned substances.”
ITC officials have been so tight-lipped about the doping incident that no one knows what procedures the race followed or, for that matter, why it believes the doping could have taken place just minutes before the doping test in Nome or hours earlier, 80 miles back toward White Mountain, the penultimate checkpoint on the trail.
The ITCs zero- to 15-hour timeline for drug administration leaves open the possibility the tramadol could have been given to the dogs innocently enough in Nome after the finish to help them rest, although Iditarod rules prohibit mushers from treating dogs before they are drug tested or six-hours post finish, whichever comes first.
But the timeline could also fit a musher providing drugs in White Mountain or on the trail.
Giving the dogs drugs in White Mountain, or anywhere on the way to Nome to aid getting the team across the finish line would be a serious offense.
The time of drug administration is hard to determine from a urine sample, but authorities on drug testing say the amount of pure tramadol excreted in the urine and the presence, or lack of, various metabolites could help in establishing a timeline.
Some have questioned whether the zero to 15-hour time frame might suggest the dogs were dosed twice, once at White Mountain to help them rest or get to the restart line sans limps before the push to the finish, and then again in Nome to cover what happened back on the trail.
Mushers and teams sit out a mandatory, 8-hour rest in White Mountain. After more than a week on the trail, such a lengthy rest will lead some dogs to get up stiff and sore. A dose of tramadol might have made things easier for them.
ITC’s failure to provide complete information has caused a mountain of speculation to grow like an active volcano since the race revealed the positive drug test with the suggestion it was nothing more than a demonstration of why Iditarod doping rules needed amendment.
Some mushers have even questioned whether the doping happened. They argue that given the politics of Iditarod some musher could have been set up. The feelings on all sides brought to a head the demand for transparency.
The Finishers Club is arguing for getting it all out in the open. They also want Iditarod to repeal a gag order designed to prevent mushers from talking about these sort of things.
Finally, on top of all of this, they say the date for withdrawal from the 2018 race with a full refund of the $4,000 entry fee should be extended to Dec. 1.
“…By waiting until Oct. 6, 2017 to release the information regarding the positive drug test that all mushers who signed up were misled by the ITC and the board of directors. We believe that given this new information regarding the 2017 race and how the ITC has chosen to handle it that mushers should be able to withdraw without penalty. ”
The Finishers Club is a select group. More people now reach the top of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, every year than have made Nome in the history of the Iditarod.
Here’s the full draft press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 23, 2017
On October 22, 2017 The Iditarod Official Finishers Club (IOFC) met for an emergency meeting to discuss how the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors handled a positive drug test in the team of one of the 2017 racers.
By a unanimous vote of those in attendance, the IOFC vehemently denounces the doping of dogs in any form. Furthermore, the IOFC does not support how the ITC has handled this issue.
The IOFC unanimously demands the release of Musher X’s name within 72 hours
and is asking for complete transparency moving forward. It is unacceptable that multiple dogs tested positive for a drug in a single musher’s team and that that information was only recently made public when it was known since shortly after the team finished.
The IOFC unanimously supports a strong policy regarding the use of illegal drugs but finds the rewrite of Rule 39 wholly inadequate. The IOFC would like to see a more comprehensive drug policy written that clearly outlines the procedures that Iditarod should follow in the event that a dog or musher tests positive for banned substances.
This policy should include the withholding of prizemoney until a full investigation can be done and must include complete transparency. These rules should reflect that Iditarod is the premier long distance dog sled race in the world and should set the standard for other dog sled races.
Additionally the IOFC unanimously believes that Rule 53, more commonly referred to as the “gag rule,” needs to be eliminated in its entirety from the 2018 race and from future races.
Whether intended or not, Rule 53 makes mushers fear speaking out against the race or its policies for fear of retribution. The IOFC believes that in the creation of Rule 53 that the ITC has done more harm than good to the sport of dog sledding, and seeks to immediately reverse that policy.
Finally by a unanimous vote, the IOFC demands that the Iditarod Trail Committee extend the date that mushers can receive a full refund for their 2018 entry fee. The IOFC unanimously agrees that by waiting until October 6, 2017 to release the information regarding the positive drug test that all mushers who signed up were misled by the ITC and the Board of Directors.
We believe that given this new information regarding the 2017 race and how the ITC has chosen to handle it, that mushers should be able to withdraw without penalty.
Again, the IOFC believes that dog doping of any kind is wrong and mushers should be able to protest how this was handled without financial consequence. This date should be set no earlier than December 1, 2017.
The IOFC will meet again on November 12 to further discuss actions it believes the ITC needs to take in order to resolve this issue for the betterment of the sport of long distance dog sled racing.