This is a developing story
After a year of battling with four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has announced it has changed its mind about who doped his dog team and apologized to the 31-year-old, Willow musher.
“After several meetings with Dallas Seavey, and review of all relevant information and evidence, the board does not believe that Dallas had any involvement with, or knowledge of, the events that led to the positive test in his team,” the Iditarod Trail Committee said in a statement released this morning. “The ITC concludes that it is not credible that Dallas was involved, and he is found to have committed no wrong doing. Whatever happened was completely beyond his control.”
The statement offered no hint as to who the organization now believes administered tramadol to Seavey’s dogs after the finish of the race in Nome in 2017.
The Iditarod board of directors underwent a major shakeup earlier this year, and the new board president offered the board’s official apology to Seavey.
“We regret the delays in resolving this matter and want to make clear that we do not place blame on Dallas regarding the circumstances surrounding the positive drug test of his four dogs in 2017,” the media statement reported Mike Mills, an Anchorage attorney, saying. “On behalf of the ITC, I apologize to Dallas for any negative publicity and damages this situation has caused him.”
The four dogs that showed tramadol in Seavey’s team were the only dogs tested. By the Nome finish line, only seven of the 16 dogs with which Seavey started the race were left in his team, and drug testers said that the discovery that the only four of seven tested were positive made it likely all seven had been doped.
The doping positive was not revealed for seven months. There was a media explosion when the Iditarod finally disclosed that an unnamed musher’s team had tested positive for an unspecified drug.
That marked the first time in history that Iditarod had revealed a positive drug test though rumors of doping had swirled around the race for decades. It was eventually revealed the doped dogs belong to Seavey and he and the Iditarod engaged in a long-running public relations battle with Seavey accusing the Iditarod of trying to smear him, and the Iditarod insisting that it didn’t know who doped the dogs, but sticking to the view a musher is always responsible for its team.
Since the incident, Iditarod has said it upped security along the trail.
“The Iditarod has taken extraordinary measures in recent months to improve itself as an organization and I am thrilled to see the Iditarod on what I believe to be a very positive trajectory,” Seavey was quoted as saying in the prepared statement.
“I would like to thank the current board members for donating their considerable talents to the Iditarod and look forward to seeing the Iditarod prosper under their leadership. Since my grandfather’s participation in the inaugural Iditarod, the Seavey family has cumulatively competed in 47 Iditarod races. I look forward to many more years of involvement in the Last Great Race!”
The statement did not say whether Seavey will be permitted a late entry into the 2019 race. He is not presently signed up to run in March.
Despite the Seavey apology, Iditarod said a “strict liability” doping rule approved by the previous board is still in force. The rule makes mushers responsible for a doped team unless they can present some sort of evidence to demonstrate they were not responsible for the doping.
A strict liability rule is the norm in most sport and part of the program for races sanctioned by the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports (IFSS), the international governing body for sled dog sports.
The Iditarod is not an IFSS member, but it now has its own strict liability rule that says this:
“Mushers will be held strictly liable for all positive tests for prohibited drugs and procedures of dogs in their team for purposes of application of and sanctions administered pursuant to this Rule 39 unless they can establish, to the satisfaction of a review panel comprised of the Race Marshall, the Chief Veterinarian and three independent professionals appointed by the Board President, by clear and convincing evidence that the positive tests resulted from causes completely beyond their control.”
The rule is similar to the standard the previous Iditarod Board applied to Seavey. Lacking “clear and convincing evidence” to clear Seavey, it concluded it couldn’t rule out the possibility Seavey was the one who doped the dogs.
REVISION: An earlier version of this story lacked Iditarod confirmation that the strict liability doping rule remains in place.