Brandon Stewart failed a drug test after his application to take a banned substance was rejected. Picture: Zoon Cronje / Gallo Images

Durban – Sponsors of the FedGroup Itec Pro Mountain Biking team announced on Thursday that their rider, Brandon Stewart, had “suspended himself” following an “11-month muddle” with the South African Institute of Drug-Free Sport (Saids).

In October, Stewart was informed by Cycling South Africa that he had tested positive for a banned substance after a routine drug test four months earlier, and faced the possibility of a ban from cycling.

His sponsors, however, said the positive test was a result of Stewart taking a medically necessary testosterone treatment, which he had informed the institute of while applying for a therapeutic use exemption. Athletes who need to use banned substances for medical reasons can compete if they have an exemption approved by their national anti-drug organisation, in this case Saids.

“While we fully support initiatives aimed at ensuring that South African sport is drug-free, Stewart’s unpleasant experience has resulted in his voluntarily suspending himself… and could hold serious negative implications for sport in general,” said FedGroup chief financial officer Scott Field.

According to FedGroup, Stewart consulted a doctor a year ago following bouts of depression and mood swings, and was told that his testosterone levels were low.

Stewart consulted the Saids exemption liaison official, Anique Coetzee, and on her advice was prescribed a testosterone treatment, Nebido, by his doctor, and then applied online for an exemption to use the medication. According to his team, Stewart was told telephonically by Coetzee that, “while waiting for a response to the application, he could undergo the treatment and continue to race”. This was confirmed in writing.

“Two months after making his application, Stewart received an e-mail telling him that his application had been declined,” FedGroup said in a statement. “The e-mail recommended that Stewart have further tests done,” but he could continue to race.

Stewart maintains that he stopped taking Nebido in April.

In July, three months after the first reports by the endocrinologist had been submitted, Stewart was informed that his second exemption application had also been denied.

“Two days prior to receipt of this July e-mail, one of the Said’s routine drug tests had been done on Stewart. He had been off the Nebido treatment for three months. In October, four months after the drug test in July, Stewart was informed by Cycling SA that he had tested positive for a banned substance,” the statement read.

Stewart appealed against the decision. “All of the major sponsors of the team are comfortable that everything Brandon did was above board. He has kept us informed and retains our confidence and trust,” the statement read.

The drug-free institute’s chief executive, Khalid Galant, said a “preliminary investigation” was under way and that a decision on whether to charge Stewart with doping would be made the by end of this month.

Stewart, a former Absa Cape Epic African jersey leader and SA Cross Country champion, declined to comment.

The Mercury