FORMER Ivybridge Community College weightlifter Sonny Webster has spoken of his devastation at receiving a four-year ban for failing a drugs test.
Webster, who competed at last year’s Olympic Games and the 2014 Commonwealth Games, tested positive for a substance called ostarine in an out-of-competition test four months ago.
He has insisted he has never knowingly taken any banned substances and is at a loss of how the substance – used to treat osteoporosis – got into his system.
The 23-year-old has spent his life-savings trying to prove his innocence but has not been able to overturn a ban.
He could have accepted a two-year suspension, instead of four, but that would have meant pleading guilty, which is something he was not prepared to do.
In a statement on Facebook today, Webster said: “Four months ago I had the devastating news that I had a positive drug test for a banned substance called ostarine.
“I was in complete shock when I found out and I still do not know how this substance came to be in my system.
“Weightlifting is my life and everything that I live and breathe and I would never risk losing this by knowingly taking a banned substance.
“Ostarine is a substance used for treating osteoporosis and muscle wastage, which are both conditions that I do not suffer with.
“Since the age of 16 I have been on ADAMS whereabouts, which means that I provide an hour of every single day to be available for drug testing. The positive test was out of my allocated testing hour, which means that had I not answered the door then there would not have been any consequences.
“As I had nothing to hide, I was happy to welcome the testers into my home and perform my drugs test as I always have been (I have done nearly 50 since the age of 16).
“As you will be aware, I regularly promote clean sport and take pride in the fact that I get drug tested.
“It is important for me to do so as I like everyone that supports me to know that everything I have achieved is down to hard work and that alone, in order for people to believe that they can achieve the same.
“It has been extremely difficult to keep this news from you, whilst sharing every other aspect of my life. There have been times where I have really struggled. The reason why I haven’t been able to share it with you is because I have been working with a legal team and experts in order to try to establish where the ostarine has come from and how it got into my body.
“We initially felt that the most likely cause of the positive test was due to cross-contamination of supplements, as there have been many other athletes that have tested positive for ostarine under these circumstances.
“There have also been many examples of ostarine being found in products that it should not be in, such as salt tablets (which are used for hydration).
“Ultimately, the lab that we tested the supplements in, was not able to establish the presence of ostarine in my supplements. However, the UKAD analyst testified that the amount of ostarine found in my body was the lowest that has ever been reported (4 nanograms/ml) which would make it near impossible to establish the source.
“This has been really difficult to deal with, having been through all of this and to still not know the cause.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported me over the last few years both emotionally and financially, as without your support I would have never been able to attempt to prove my innocence.
“Without you guys I would have found it extremely difficult to stay motivated during this time.
“I have spent my life savings in my attempt to prove my innocence and to find out how ostarine came to be in my sample. The money was spent on lawyers, analysis of samples and supplements and on the legal team who did all they could to establish the source.
“Whilst this has been a strain financially, I knew that I had to do all that I could in order to attempt to prove my innocence.
“If I had known the source of the ostarine, I would never have spent so much money in trying to pinpoint where it came from. This whole experience has highlighted that my integrity is worth far more than any amount of money.
“I was offered, on two occasions, to admit to knowingly taking ostarine in exchange for a 50 per cent ban reduction.
“You may think that that was a stupid offer not to take, but I was never going to admit to something that I had not done intentionally regardless of the consequences. I was prepared to do everything in my power to prove the truth.
“Because other athletes have been prepared to cheat intentionally in the past, the punishments are often huge, and rightly so.
“I am personally a massive supporter of the maximum ban. However, as an honest athlete who has infringed the rules unintentionally, I have first-hand experience of the injustice that the system can cause.
“I take full responsibility for what is in my body and I am aware that I am not the first person to have failed a drug test unintentionally, but I wouldn’t wish what I have been through on anybody and I would like other athletes to be able to learn from this.
“I understand the importance of ensuring everything that I put in my body is safe and banned substance free. However, no matter how careful you are, you still run the risk of prohibited substances entering your system.
“As a result of not being able to prove that the ingestion of the substance was unintentional the National Doping Agency have served me with a fou-year ban.
“This is the largest possible ban you can receive for a doping case. Given the circumstances of the test and how hard I tried to find the source I felt this length of ban was holly unjustified in comparison to athletes who cheat intentionally in competition.
“I had attempted to appeal this further but was ultimately stopped due to future legal cost and difficulty around using new experts to perform retesting.
“No matter how testing this experience has been, I am extremely positive for the future and I want you all to know that I will not stop what I love doing and I will be continuing to deliver seminars and promoting weightlifting in a positive light.
“Going forward I want to show everyone that terrible things may happen to you but there is always a way back. I will not rest until I have achieved my dream of Commonwealth gold.”