Johnson tested positive for the presence of a specified substance, hydrochlorothiazide (S5 Diuretics and Masking Agents), following an out-of-competition test at the Premiership club.
The South African’s urine sample returned an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) after being tested on 7 February 2018.
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The 32-year-old claimed the AAF was the result of mistakenly consuming his wife’s dietary supplement – a fat burner called “The Secret” – which she purchased from South Africa. The product was tested by both the player and the RFU for hydrochlorothiazide, which was not listed in the product’s ingredients, and on both occasions it returned a positive result.
The independent panel accepted that the prohibited substance was not ingested intentionally. The period of ineligibility has been applied from 7 February 2018 – the date of the sample collection – until 7 August 2018. The outcome of the hearing is subject to a right of appeal until 13 August 2018.
The panel praised the RFU’s approach of fully contesting the player’s case following extensive cross-examination of both Johnson and his wife during the hearing. The RFU also sought an expert opinion and reviewed Johnson’s bank account records, internet usage of the player and his wife, and player data (in particular in relation to weight composition).
Stephen Watkins, RFU Anti-Doping and Illicit Drugs Programme Manager, said: “Ashley Johnson was careless in his failure to acknowledge his responsibilities as a rugby player and ensure he was dutiful in checking what he consumed.
“The risk of contamination in supplements is significant to all players and therefore we advise that there is no guarantee that a supplement is free from prohibited substances.”
“I completely accept that I am responsible for everything in my body. Drug use is not something I would ever condone, and from now on I will be extra vigilant at all times.
“I would like to thank my family and friends, everyone at Wasps, the RPA and our fans for their support through this difficult period and apologise unreservedly for what has happened.
“I am now working hard in pre-season and am looking forward to putting this behind me and getting back to being part of the Wasps squad.”
Director of Wasps rugby Dai Young said:
“We fully support the measures in place to keep rugby doping-free, and are grateful for the professionalism shown by everyone involved in this case.
“Ashley has been at Wasps since 2012 and in that time successfully completed countless anti-doping tests.
“He is an extremely honourable person who has made a one-off accidental error for which he has held his hands up, apologised and accepted the consequences.
“This situation has highlighted just how easily a player can make a mistake of this kind. We have therefore strongly reinforced to all our squad that they must always be on their guard and fully aware of exactly what they consume.
“The last few months have been doubly difficult for us all because a process had to be followed and that prevented Ashley or anyone at Wasps from providing updates.
— Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport) July 26, 2018
“I know this has been hard for our supporters; I would like to thank them for their understanding and hope we can now all focus fully on the season ahead.”
Due to the player’s timely admission and his conduct during the investigation, it was deemed that the ban should be backdated to February 7, making him eligible again from August 6 2018.
Under World Rugby regulation 188.8.131.52 Johnson is permitted to fully resume training with his club with immediate effect.
The case was heard by an independent panel including William Norris QC (Chair), Professor Dorian Haskard and Sir Richard McLaughlin.
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