What next for Contador?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Contador

Going up or down?

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.

Pau Novotel

It happened here

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.

Double appeal
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.

Summary
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.

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{ 6 comments }

SilverSurfer8 April 1, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Wouldn’t it be great if all doping cases went straight to CAS? With the national federations’ obvious conflict of interest in prosecuting their own athletes, it seems like an obvious solution. Think of the time saved!

CT April 1, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I understand your argument about the rules needing a review, but actually, I think the issue has fixed itself.

So far, the main argument of those who have been to Mexico and China is that they could not possibly have known that they were in risk of getting contaminated with clenbuterol. But with all the press coverage, it’s fair to say that athletes should now be aware of this risk when going to countries such as Mexico and China, thus once again enforcing the rule about strict liability.

Contador? He’s doomed. Unlike Colo, Philip Nielsen etc., he can’t show a statistic that says it’s likely to get contaminated with clenbuterol from a Spanish beef.

The Inner Ring April 2, 2011 at 12:53 am

SilverSurfer8: yes, independence is a big issue. In fact the UCI actually has a seperate entity for anti-doping to keep this at arms’ length but in reality it is very close.

CT: good points. Certainly his chances are much smaller, especially because the UCI and WADA are on separate angles.

Crommy April 2, 2011 at 4:37 am

I think whatever happens, you’re going to have two camps.

One, with the majority of Spaniards, will always believe his innocence. If the verdict goes against him, they’ll see it as some form of travesty of justice, and feel even more sympathy for a national hero who has had the system wrongly against him.

On the other side, you have the majority of the rest of the World, who will always see him as a doper. If the verdict goes for Contador, they will see it as a failure of the anti-doping authorities, and maybe even evidence of a corrupt system (although there should no longer be any doubt about how corrupt the Spanish authorities are in terms of protecting prominent national sports-persons (see Operacion Puerto etc.)). He’ll always be referred to as the man who got away.

So I believe the outcome will not change views on whether he has doped or not, it will just change the length of time he is banned for.

My own personal view is all the statistics are against Contador. The statistics are against him, and his defence against strict liability just doesn’t hold up. My only worry is that Contador has only been caught on a moment of negligence, as Clenbuterol has entered his system accidentally, when used with other, more powerful doping techniques (probably autologous blood transfers), rather than the other powerful techniques themselves. Still, any time a doper is caught (especially of this high profile) is a good thing. CAS’ announcement of a speedier resolution is also good.

The Inner Ring April 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

Crommy: well put. I think the division will continue as you say. It comes down to a question of belief, we are presented with hypotheses based on incidences of probability and must decide. Clearly those in support will tend to fall on one side, those suspicious will fall on the other. It’s very unsatisfying not to get near the truth.

Dennis April 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Interestingly enough, there seem to be a (large) number of Danes sticking up for Contador.

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