There had been fears that the Contador case could drag on and on, with the appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) lasting until September. But the CAS has the means to expedite a case if all parties agree. Whilst due process has to be followed, the calendar can be shortened substantially if each party files documents speedily, as opposed to waiting for deadline for each stage of the process.
Now that the dust has settled on the RFEC verdict and the appeal has been announced, I want to take a look at a few issues related to this.
Will Contador want to hurry?
Presumably he is paid by the month and with a tasty contract from Saxo-Sungard, Contador is certainly incentivised to go for the maximum number of pay cheques. So rather than speeding through the hearing, I wonder if he will want to play for time? But this is obviously much more than a question of money, I’m merely pointing out one motive. Another is to clear his name and the speedy resolution is probably in his interest too. As such we should know in mid to late June. 11 months after the “non-negative” test, it’s very slow.
Did the UCI delay?
Yes the UCI delayed things a bit, waiting until the very last day possible to announce an appeal. But it’s understandale. The governing body has been under pressure since there have been four important cases regarding the bio passport in front of the CAS. In particular the Pellizotti case, it took a lot of resources to catch “the Dolphin”. As much as the UCI seems to spend a lot of time sitting in the CAS, it doesn’t have the legal staff on standby to review everything speedily. So this goes some way to explaining the UCI’s delay.
Another factor is that the UCI can’t rush the appeal. Alberto Contador has a peloton-sized armada of lawyers and a false move by the UCI is going to see hefty costs awarded to the losing side in any appeal. You don’t take the world’s top cyclist to court just to test the RFEC’s verdict.
A six month ban?
Instead of the RFEC clearing him, I can’t but think a six month ban would have been the best deal for all. Yes Contador would lose his win last summer but it could be attributed to a rogue steak and harsh rules on strict liability. The Spaniard could blame the system and Bjarne Riis would probably still want him. He’d have had to sit out the winter but he never raced in the six month period from last July onwards anyway.
But this short ban would have allowed the UCI and WADA to enforce their rules, to uphold the principle of strict liability. Note I’m not suggesting this short ban in relation to any notion of guilt, more as sort of “common denominator” where if nobody is happy, it probably would have been enough to put the issue away. A theoretical idea if you like.
Goodbye to strict liability?
There have been several cases where athletes with positive tests for clenbuterol and other substances have appealed and got bans overturned, on the basis of accidental ingestion. But often this has been when an athlete travels to a foreign country known for widespread food contamination. Nevertheless, the presence of some banned substances seems to be tolerated if you can show passport stamps for places like China and Mexico. Given this, the wording of the rules probably has to change anyway.
The truth versus a statistical review
Personally I still think the contamination story is a tough angle for Contador. I fear a courtroom battle of experts over statistical analysis of meat contamination is probably a theoretical exercise, an explanation of what is possible rather than the pursuit of the truth. This isn’t to say Contador was doping, no, just that his defence lies in trying to suggest – without proof – that it is most probable that the meat was contaminated. It comes down to what probably happened instead of what actually happened.
One unclear aspect so far is the double appeal. Both the UCI and WADA are appealing the RFEC’s verdict but with separate appeals. In the past they have teamed up to pool resources, be they legal, medical and financial. This time the dual approach suggests something different. I can’t imagine they have not discussed the issues and by extension it appears they are perhaps going to try a twin-track approach, the UCI pursuing one avenue whilst WADA appeals another one.
If you haven’t got it already, I’m just exploring some angles here. The saga goes on and nobody is looking good. I’ve said before that the prospect of results in the Giro being rewritten is ugly. Races should be decided on the road, not the courtroom but sadly these days issues like strictly liability, food contamination and monetary incentives are part and parcel of this saga.