A Chilean weightlifter who has tested positive for cannabis has until Sunday (July 4) to lodge an appeal that might rescue his place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, his National Olympic Committee has said.
Should Arley Mendez fail to meet the deadline, or lose the appeal, a Canadian athlete is likely to take his place in the men’s 81-kilogram category.
Mendez, who sprang to prominence with a surprise victory at the old 85kg category at the 2017 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, has been "temporarily suspended" from Chile’s team, the Chilean Olympic Committee (COCH) has said.
He is said to have been tested at a qualifying competition in Colombia, according to statements in Chile, and is believed to have come up positive in May.
No announcement has been made by the International Testing Agency (ITA), which carries out anti-doping procedures for the IWF.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it was unable to comment as the case is ongoing.
A statement by the COCH said Mendez was suspended until the ITA’s response to his appeal is known - if he makes one.
WADA changed its rules late last year to lessen the punishment for athletes who test positive for recreational drugs taken in a non-sport context rather than to enhance performance.
The onus is on the athlete to prove that there was no performance-enhancing intent.
According to media reports in Chile, a successful appeal for the lightest punishment - a one-month suspension - must show that the test was carried out out-of-competition.
The longer suspension for cannabis is three months, which would rule Mendez, 27, out of the Olympics.
Alex Bellemarre of Canada is the likely replacement if Mendez is out.
He sits a place behind the Polish athlete Krzysztof Zwarycz, who has also not qualified, but Zwarycz is likely to take a place vacated by Colombia, which must drop two of its four men already selected because of a doping-related punishment.
When Mendez, originally from Cuba, won his world title in Anaheim, California, he was said by his Bulgarian coach Giorgi Panchev to be "the Lionel Messi of weightlifting".
Mendez’s performances have dropped away in the past three years and when he won at the South American Championships in May his 335kg total at the new weight was 46kg less than his 2018 best.
Miguel Ángel Mujica, COCH President, explained to local media why the news had been made public despite the lack of any announcement by anti-doping authorities.
"We believe that it is very important to be transparent with this type of situation or it lends itself to misinterpretations.
"As Arley is an athlete who had been announced as a member of Team Chile for the Olympic Games, it was necessary to inform that this participation is now suspended until the ITA refers to his possible appeal.
"It is unfortunate, we know that going to the Olympic Games is the dream of all athletes.
"Endangering that dream for something like this is a pity.
"Any consumption of a substance that is on the WADA list of prohibited substances is irresponsible."