Judge Tosses Swimming Medalist’s Libel Suit

     PHOENIX (CN) — Swimming World Magazine did not defame three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katinka Hosszu when it published an article suggesting that Hosszu uses performance-enhancing drugs, a federal judge ruled Friday.
     Hosszu sued the magazine’s publisher Sports Publications International and writer Casey Barrett for defamation in Phoenix Federal Court this past November.
     Hosszu racked up three swimming gold medals — and broke the world record in the 400-meter individual medley — and one silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics this past week.
     According to the lawsuit, Barrett wrote Hosszu’s vigorous multi-event competition schedule and recent victories could be due to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Barrett, an Olympian, also used the article “to garner media attention and increased returns for the impending release of his documentary on ‘doping,'” Hosszu claimed.
     After the article was published, Hosszu said she was randomly drug tested six times — “an unprecedented number” — by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and lost a sponsorship deal from the organizers of a Rome swimming competition.
     U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow found Friday that Hosszu’s claims failed because Barrett’s statements were protected by the First Amendment.
     “Barrett never stated in the article that Hosszu has ever used performance-enhancing drugs, and … his explicit caveats and his fair review of the facts on which his suspicions are grounded negate the possibility that he was affirmatively asserting as a fact that she has done so,” Snow wrote. “He did not explicitly state—but he clearly implied—that he believes that Hosszu’s performances should raise strong suspicions that she is using performance-enhancing drugs, and that he believes commentators should speak out about such suspicions. Such a ‘statement’ is not an assertion of fact. It is a personal opinion that is not susceptible of being proved true or false.”
     The magazine further protected itself by designating the content as “commentary,” and including a note at the bottom that the “commentary” contained Barrett’s opinion and was not the opinion of Swimming World Magazine, Snow found.
     Tamas Gyarfas, president of the Hungarian Swimming Association, said last week that Hosszu has undergone 39 drug tests this year.
     “We all agree — and on our side we are fighting with zero tolerance — that purging out doping from sport is a top priority; however, accusing someone without any clear reasoning is unfair and condemnable,” Gyarfas said in a statement. “This harms swimming, the Olympic spirit and ultimately harms the athlete, who has fulfilled her dream by coming up with her best-ever performance which thrilled the world.”
     An attorney for Hosszu was not immediately available for comment.
     Jacob Maskovich of the firm Bryan Cave, an attorney who represents Sports Publications, declined to comment.
     In the interest of full disclosure, Bryan Cave also represents Courthouse News.

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