ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Allegations of violence against women are roiling the world’s most famous dog sled race, Alaska’s Iditarod, with officials disqualifying two top mushers this week and then quickly reinstating them. one of them on Friday, days before the start.

The turmoil began last week, when the Iditarod Trail Committee, the race’s governing body, sent an email to all competitors saying it had been informed of several allegations regarding violence and abuse against women within the mushing community. .

“The ITC Board cannot tolerate such conduct by anyone affiliated with the Iditarod,” the email said.

On Monday, the committee held an emergency meeting and disqualified 2023 rookie of the year Eddie Burke Jr. Burke had faced charges of a single felony and misdemeanor assault after his then-girlfriend told police in May of 2022 that had strangled her to the point. He nearly lost consciousness, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The committee offered no explanation for Burke’s disqualification beyond noting a rule stating that mushers “shall adhere to a high standard of personal and professional conduct.”

Two days later, the state of Alaska dismissed the charges because the ex-girlfriend refused to participate in the case, Alaska Department of Law spokeswoman Patty Sullivan said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.

“After a thorough review of the evidence in this investigation, the Law Department determined that it could not prove the assault charges beyond a reasonable doubt before a trial jury,” he wrote.

On Friday, Burke was reinstated. He did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

“Additional information was provided to the Iditarod Trail Committee Board today regarding Eddie Burke Jr.,” the committee said in a news release. “Upon reviewing this information, the Board voted to reinstate Mr. Burke as a competitor in the 2024 Iditarod.”

Meanwhile, however, the committee on Thursday night disqualified 2022 champion Brent Sass, again, without offering any details as to why. No criminal cases against Sass appear in Alaska’s online court records.

“I am beyond disappointed with the decision Iditarod has made to disqualify me,” read a statement posted Friday on the Sass Kennel Facebook page. “The anonymous accusations that have been made against me are completely false.”

It was not immediately clear what allegations Sass was referring to. But on Friday, an Anchorage attorney, Caitlin Shortell, issued a statement saying, “More than one Alaska resident has sought legal advice and representation from our law firm based on their reports of sexual assault by a dog handler.” who was disqualified today by the Iditarod. – an apparent reference to Sass.

“Our clients retained counsel and attempted to remain anonymous due to the high risk that disclosure of their identities and experiences would subject them to further traumatization, invasion of privacy, litigation, and possible violence by their abuser or others.” , says the statement.

Retired musher Dan Seavey of Seward said the situation could be seen as a black mark against the race or as race officials having scruples and defending them.

“It’s easy to bring charges against anyone, but proving them is another thing,” said Seavey, 86, a former board member who ran the Iditarod five times, including third place in the first race.

“I don’t think race should be involved in out-of-race disputes,” he said.

Mike Williams Sr. participated in 15 Iditarod races between 1992 and 2013. The 71-year-old Yup’ik leader from the Akiak community in southwest Alaska ran the last race with his son, Mike Williams Jr. He also considers both Sass and Burke. friends.

Race officials’ main concern should be making sure the dogs are well cared for, he said, and he doesn’t think it’s necessary for the Iditarod to police the lives of mushers. Instead, each musher must make his own decisions and face the consequences if he gets into legal trouble.

“Anything we do, we are innocent until proven guilty,” Williams said.

This year’s 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) race through the Alaskan wilderness begins March 2 with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. The competitive outing occurs the next day, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) north of Anchorage.

Sass’ elimination leaves 39 mushers remaining in this year’s field. Last year, 33 mushers started, the fewest since the Iditarod was first held in 1973.

This is not the first time Sass has been disqualified from the Iditarod.

In 2015, he was removed from the race after officials discovered he was carrying an iPod Touch with him on the trail, a violation of race rules prohibiting two-way communication devices. Although the iPod Touch was not a phone, it could have communicated with other people when it connected to the Internet, authorities said.

By Sam