Fast Thoughts: James Stewart

Following months of speculation, the James Stewart saga has now finally reached its climax! The former champ has received his penalty from the FIM and, unfortunately, it is not good news. His 2015 season is in tatters before it has even started, as he will not be able to race until August 11th, which means he’ll be able to contest the final two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross rounds and various events following that.

The Yoshimura Suzuki team again got ahead of the press release from the FIM to put their side across, like they did when the news initially broke back in June, which was a wise move on their part. However, it is hard to limit the damage done by this whole debacle, as they will still be left without their star rider for a large majority of 2015.

Unsurprisingly a majority of the fans are weighing in on this debate with their views on whether the penalty is too harsh. I believe that this has caught a few people off guard, as some expected him to just get a slap on the wrist and a hefty fine. After all, rarely do we see a penalty of this size in this sport. However, the guys at WADA (and the same goes for USADA, the FIM and others involved in this) aren’t fazed by the fact that James is a big name and, although it may seem harsh to some, their main goal is to ensure that rules are followed. On this occasion, they were not and James must face the consequences.

Stewart stated in the PR that he does plan to appeal, as he feels that “the punishment far outweighs the situation; especially since I received both WADA and USADA approvals that prove I’m not cheating.” This quote also supports my previous statement. If what James says is true, and both WADA and USADA have accepted that he was not cheating, he is being punished purely because he did not have his TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) in place when he should have.

It is clearly stated in the Therapeutic Use Exemption guidelines, which can be accessed by anyone on the WADA website, that this is unacceptable: “A TUE is required for all treatments involving the use of a prohibited substance or method on the prohibited list. An athlete must obtain a TUE prior to using or possessing the substance or method in question.” Now, I’m sure some of you may think this is a little unreasonable. He got the TUE in eventually and that was clearly recognised by both agencies.

However, there are situations for which TUEs may be granted retroactively, so WADA aren’t simply out to get the guys. If a retroactive TUE were deemed acceptable, it would basically let James off the hook for having it in late. What are some of these situations?

  • Due to other exceptional circumstances, there was insufficient time or opportunity for the athlete to submit, or the TUEC to consider, an application for the TUE prior to sample collection.
  • “It is agreed, by WADA and by the ADO to whom the application for a retroactive TUE is or would be made, that fairness requires the grant of a retroactive TUE.”

Seemingly none of those situations apply to James, who must have had no excuse for not having his TUE in place, hence the penalty. At least this is how I understand the situation. So, is the penalty harsh? I personally believe it is, although I think that it is right that he was handed a penalty. I’m just not sure that basically missing the whole of 2015 is right.

You have to wonder how many more chances we are going to get to see James on track now. In February he extended his deal with Yoshimura Suzuki (who have already made it clear that they intend to stick by their rider) for one year only, which covers the 2015 season. Most presumed that he would hang up the boots once he had fulfilled his current contract, so could the final two nationals be his farewell tour? It would be a tough ask for him to sit out the whole of this year and then hit the track again in 2016, although this whole debacle could light a fire beneath him.

Although we now finally have the answers that we wanted, there are now many more questions. What does Stewart do now? Will Yoshimura Suzuki pick up a replacement rider? Will his appeal work? In regard to the latter, I really can’t see his appeal helping in any way, as there are many factors that the various parties would have considered when deciding on the penalty; it isn’t something that was just plucked out of thin air.

So we will be without James when the Monster Energy Supercross series begins, but you will certainly hear his name pop up each week. Whether he is on the track or not, he has always been one of the most polarizing characters that fans love to talk about. It’s just a shame that for the next eight months, his results won’t be at the centre of that attention.

Words: Lewis Phillips

Image: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

MX Vice Editor || 25

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