Vélo Files: Mixed messages

Anthony Tan

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A witch-hunt. Justice. A conspiracy. An easy way out. Guilty as charged. Innocent till proven… The watershed decision made by Lance Armstrong last Friday, when he decided to not contest the charges against him has been called all these things. In short a bunch of mixed messages. And until the truth is laid to bare, cold comfort for the wider public who deserve to see the truth, writes Anthony Tan.

This case has such magnitude, the charges so serious, the politics and polemics so rife, the principal a wildly polarising and transcendental figure, in order for me to accept this decision, I – and the majority of you, too, it seems – need to see the evidence to believe it.

WADA chief John Fahey last Friday told the ABC the stripping of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour titles is now a matter for the UCI. The same day Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, told VeloNation because the charges were not contested, “what automatically goes into place will be a lifetime ban from any participation from any sport which recognises the WADA Code and disqualification from all results, including any Tour de France victories, any other victories and placings beginning August 1st 1998 to the present.”

Fahey also said: “I think all sports lovers would have liked to have seen what the substance was in the evidence. That will not happen.”

However Tygart insisted there is “absolutely” no impediment to releasing their dossier compiled on Armstrong’s alleged doping transgressions, pending resolution of two of his associates involved in the same conspiracy who have opted for arbitration, namely Johan Bruyneel and Pedro Celaya, team manager and doctor at RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. (In July USADA confirmed doctors Luis Garcia del Moral and Michele Ferrari, and trainer Jose ‘Pepe’ Martí accepted, or more accurately did not contest, the lifetime bans imposed on them.)

The UCI is yet to release any comment or statement other than that they are waiting on USADA to “submit to the parties concerned (Mr Armstrong, WADA and UCI) a reasoned decision explaining the action taken”, in accordance with Article 8.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code.

USADA, though, has alleged the UCI is complicit in the systematic doping conspiracy it charged Armstrong and five associates with. Specifically, it concerns an suspected cover-up from the 2001 Tour de Suisse, where it was claimed Armstrong tested positive for EPO but bought his way out of it – ironically by making a donation to the UCI to buy equipment to detect the very substance.

And in light of last Friday’s news, what of US District Court judge Sam Sparks’ observations, who last Monday threw out Armstrong’s lawsuit vis-à-vis USADA’s lack of process but nevertheless castigated the original charging letter as “woefully inadequate”?

Sparks also said that USADA’s decision to grant Armstrong’s former team-mates partial immunity in return for testimony offered him no choice but to conclude “USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations”. (Nonetheless, the judge noted USADA’s authorisation stemmed from an act of Congress and that its arbitration process did not violate Armstrong’s right to due process.)

Has Armstrong being stripped of all results or just his Tour titles? Will someone else be retrospectively awarded those victories, and if so, will a formal process take place, or will they be mailed a cheque sans interest inside a rusted trophy? Will Armstrong be forced to repay his prizemoney? If so, who is in charge of that – USADA or the UCI? Doesn’t the UCI ‘own’ the results, since all cycling events Armstrong contested as a professional were registered with the governing body? Upon receiving the dossier, will the UCI challenge the decision by USADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport?

What of the ten or more former USPS team-mates who testified – will they be charged or sanctioned, or allowed to continue in the sport as if they were innocent bystanders? And the rest of those involved, such as Armstrong’s former team manager Bruyneel, who, as I write this blog post, is negotiating deals with riders and their agents to ride for his team next season, seemingly intent on being part of the cycling scene in 2013… what happens to them?

What does this say about the testing during the 1990s and early 2000s? Or perhaps more importantly, today, since Armstrong’s blood samples from 2009 and 2010 were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions”, according to the June 12 charging letter from USADA? (If you were Justice Sam Sparks, you might label their efficacy to ping drug cheats “woefully inadequate”. Okay, they got Lance, but how many did they miss?)

I have purposely not quoted one complaint from Armstrong or his legal team. Yet there’s a plethora of mixed messages, and, like a bad smell that won’t go away, a multitude of unanswered questions floating in the ether.

Normally I would accept the decision by USADA, no questions asked. Indeed, they have no history of bending the rules, ignorance of due process, or selective punishment.

But this case has such magnitude, the charges so serious, the politics and polemics so rife, the principal a wildly polarising and transcendental figure, in order for me to accede to this decision, I – and many of you, too, it seems, judging from the polls and the comments I’ve read – need to see the evidence to believe it.

As WADA president John Fahey said so himself: “This (whether Armstrong doped) has been a vexed question for many, many years. The only way to put it to bed was to see the evidence and there was no doubt considerable evidence tested in a public way and for whatever the outcome, whatever that outcome, then at least we would have known the facts.”

Only then, I believe, can the court of public opinion judge him properly.

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