Jon Jones and his “continuing duty of cooperation”

Unless you have spent the last 24 hours holed up in a crater on the moon, it won’t have escaped your attention that the most talked about doping case in MMA was finally resolved last night as Jon Jones was handed down a 15 month sentence by the arbitrators at McClaren Global Sports Solutions (MGSS) leaving him free to pick up his UFC career in a little under a month.

The headlines have largely been that Jones got 15 months, received a reduction (of three months) from the Arbitrators who concluded he hadn’t intended to cheat, and that he is effectively free to compete almost immediately.

What was missed by some initially, was that prior to arbitration, agreement had already been made between the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) and Jones’ representatives to give a 30 month reduction due to the “substantial assistance” clause in the UFC Anti Doping Policy. USADA were consequently requesting an 18 month suspension, with the arbitrators eventually settling on a 15 month punishment as in their opinion Jones had reduced his degree of fault by amongst other things hiring a nutritionist and documenting his supplementation routine, and convincing the panel that the positive test was not as a result of deliberate actions.

So what is “substantial assistance”? (see footnote thumb) in the Anti Doping Policy defines it as information which results in:

(i) USADA or another Anti-Doping Organization discovering or bringing forward an Anti-Doping Policy Violation by another Person and the information provided by the Person providing Substantial Assistance is made available to USADA, or (ii) which results in a criminal or disciplinary body discovering or bringing forward a criminal offense or the breach of professional rules committed by another Person and the information provided by the Person providing Substantial Assistance is made available to USADA.

In other words, the information provided must lead to either anti-doping rule violations (ADRV) against an individual, criminal proceedings against an individual, or professional proceedings against a person, for instance a doctor losing their license due to supplying prohibited substances.

Furthermore, regarding how much of a reduction is granted in relation to substantial assistance, the policy states:

The extent to which the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility and other Consequences imposed may be suspended shall be based on the seriousness of the Anti-Doping Policy Violation committed by the Athlete or other Person and the significance of the Substantial Assistance provided by the Athlete or other Person to the effort to eliminate doping in sport.

The amount of deduction the athlete receives is directly related to the quality of evidence they provide.

“Whistleblowing” is not uncommon in sport. In 2016 USADA received non-analytical evidence (in other words, he didn’t test positive, they found other evidence) that American weightlifter Michael Zoda was using prohibited substances. Zoda was approached by USADA and admitted purchasing and using products bought online and entered into agreement with USADA to cooperate with their investigations going forward. Zoda’s evidence would lead to other suspensions within the sport of weightlifting.

Another weightlifter David Bayer received a reduced penalty for cooperation following his non-analytical positive, a third Megan Palicka, a one year reduction, while a fourth, Michael Gingras would eventually receive a 12 year suspension for possessing, trafficking and administering prohibited substances over a six month period. Gingras in fact received a reduction in his suspension because of his cooperation.

Zoda received a 24-month reduction on his four-year suspension, Bayer an 18 month reduction on a four-year suspension.

For Jones to receive a 30-month reduction on a 4 year suspension, more than Michael Zoda, we can presume that the information provided by Jones is significant, and will lead to a major investigation, and/or multiple sanctions.

“USADA reserves the right, in USADA’s sole discretion, to reinstate any part of  this 30 month reduction in the event Mr. Jones fails to cooperate and/or provide the complete and credible substantial assistance upon which the suspension of part of his period of ineligibility is based”

Its important to note, that the story doesn’t end here for Jones. To satisfy clause the information will need to lead to convictions of some form, and if Jones fails to co-operate going forward, fails to provide the information promised, USADA can reinstate all, or part of his 30-month reduction at any point (see footnote thumb).

In other words, if Jones fails to deliver, then he is looking at all or part of the reduction being handed back to him, he is under a “continuing duty of cooperation”.

As someone active in the anti doping community one of the obvious questions to me in the early hours of this morning was how I felt about Jones seemingly escaping punishment, “getting off with time served”, in return for “snitching”.

If Jones is serious about what information he is giving to USADA, not only already, but ongoing as the arbitration decision requires.  If he is serious about making a positive contribution towards clean sport, about being part of making a change in the culture of doping within MMA, then Jones will be welcomed with open arms into the anti-doping community.

If it is a self serving, temporary measure, just to get himself a lighter punishment, or an opportunity to settle old vendettas, then perhaps it is just the same old Jon Jones, and it is only a matter of time until the next proverbial train wreck?


You can read the full independent arbitrators report here.