All six people on the Yukon Quest rules committee resigned last year after the event’s board decided against their recommendation to disqualify a racer whose dog team tested positive for a drug, CBC News has learned.
“I just felt that they didn’t have the respect for the rules committee that they needed to,” said Karen Ramstead, former chair of the committee, adding that the board didn’t communicate its logic well enough.
The racer in question was Brian Wilmshurst.
“The drug present was norketamine, a metabolite of ketamine — a schedule III controlled drug,” reads a four-page letter, dated June 21, that the committee sent to the presidents of the event’s Alaska board and Yukon board, which form a joint board.
Ramstead said the committee recommended that Wilmshurst be disqualified and not get any prize money. There were no other recommended sanctions, and he would be free to race in the event again, she added.
The board fined him $3,262.10 US, which was also the amount he won for finishing the race in 13th place.
Wilmshurst was “abIe to ‘buy himself out of’ a positive drug test by paying back his winnings,” reads the letter.
John Dixon is the president of the board of Yukon Quest International Limited, based in Alaska. He described its recommendation for disqualification as “too severe.”
He said he believes the drug ended up in the dog’s bloodstream unintentionally through tainted meat.
“We looked at, sort of, the commonality in the past of finding these drugs in horse meat. A lot of times these drugs were used to euthanize horses that are then fed to dogs, so we believe that it wound up in the dog’s bloodstream that way,” Dixon said.
CBC attempted to contact Wilmhurst for this story, but did not hear back.
Committee concerned about setting precedent
In the letter, the committee said it was concerned that this situation could happen again — not to any specific racers — and, if the organization allowed it, possibly result in a legal challenge.
“We were also not only dealing with the individual situation before us but having to be aware of the precedent we were setting for the organization as well,” Ramstead said.
The committee’s letter referenced part of one of the Yukon Quest’s rules: “Fines or penalties levied for violations of this rule shall be based on the seriousness of the offense and will be assessed after completion of the race. The Rules Committee will be responsible for assessing these penalties.”
Dixon said the rules committee has an advisory role.
“Basically, there’s some leeway there in what we can do in a situation where we have a positive drug test,” he said regarding the rules.
The board takes a case-by-case approach, Dixon added.
Banned substances being found in dogs in sled-dog races in the region is “rare,” and he said he could only think of two other incidents, including one in a different race, in recent years.
Shayna Hammer, executive director of the Yukon Quest International Association (Canada), said on Tuesday that there’s an acting rules committee in place.