It’s impossible to treat Contador normally

Friday, 17 June 2011

Sword of Damocles

The Sword of Damocles is an ancient Greek fable that tells of a sword suspended by a horse’s hair above the head of Damocles, a courtier in Athens. At any moment the hair could break and the sword will plunge towards poor Damocles. It’s a tale that says the threat of something looming over us can be as disturbing as the act itself, that we would be unable to live normally with this threat to our life literally hanging over us.

That’s exactly where Alberto Contador is today. With the positive tests for last July still unresolved, there is a giant question mark over him and it could land on his head sometime soon. Faced with this the UCI has issued a communiqué asking that everyone treats him normally… but the very fact that Contador is the sole subject of a press release proves things are not normal.

Indeed the UCI itself quotes Jacques Rogge’s uncertainty, “I agree that it will cast a question mark on the validity of the result until the verdict is rendered“. When the head of the IOC questions the validity and lack of resolution, how can the media treat Contador like a normal rider?

Elephant in the room

Please don't talk about it

The media can’t treat Contador “like every other rider” because he’s involved in a story that concerns him and nobody else. The tale relates to the result of the 2010 race and embraces a range of other topics, from WADA’s principles to contamination in the Spanish food chain, not to mention the old subject of doping and pro cycling.

Also there are a couple of extra points to note.

“The UCI Management Committee asks that every sportsman and woman set aside their personal opinions”

This is a polite of saying “Bradley Wiggins, shut your mouth“, a call to riders to stop questioning what is going on, presumably because it  causes maximum embarrassment when athletes themselves point out the system is a farce. As I’ve said before, a large part of this is because of the UCI’s own delays. Not that you’d know this:

“the UCI also perfectly understands why the timetable set by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has caused some disappointment, even incomprehension, among many observers within the cycling community as well as the general public”

This is a frustrating turn of phrase. Yes the CAS has its timetable and Contador’s side have requested a delay. But it took about eight months before the CAS timetable started. There are some questions over the UCI’s delays, for example the story only broke after German TV was going to leak it but at the same time the UCI has had to tread very carefully in front of Contador’s lawyers too, it cannot rush things. Still, observers within the cycling community will note the majority of the delay is down to the UCI and the Spanish federation.

Summary
A special press release only highlights just how Alberto Contador is in a unique and uncertain situation. The presumption of innocence is one thing yet the UCI goes on to quote the head of the IOC pointing to the question marks hanging around Alberto Contador. Worse the UCI has hardly expedited the matter, its own delays have led us to this strange situation.

The legal right to participate is one thing but the Tour de France is sports contest full of human stories, a daily soap opera. It’s impossible to view the race in stark terms of legal rights. The media can’t just set aside the appeal and questions regarding what happened last summer.

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{ 18 comments }

Nic June 17, 2011 at 10:03 am

This press release is a complete contradiction in terms. They are announcing that we should treat Contador the same as everyone else. But by doing so, they’re ensuring he isn’t. Could it possibly be an indicator of how the UCI/WADA’s case is building?

Also, why didn’t the ASO just barr him from entering? They did it to Valverde a few years ago because he was ‘under investigation’. How is Contador not ‘under investigation’?

Cillian Kelly June 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

“They did it to Valverde a few years ago”

Not quite true. He wasn’t simply ‘under investigation’. He had been banned by the Italian bureaucracy from racing in Italy for two years. And because the Tour entered Italy that year, he couldn’t race. ASO didn’t stop him entering, his ban in Italy did.

Cillian Kelly June 17, 2011 at 10:21 am

Although that’s not to say they haven’t stopped people riding the Tour before. The whole Astana team weren’t welcome in 2008, including Contador.

Larry T. June 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

There’s no question this is a mess, mostly of the UCI’s making. The IOC boss is making a veiled threat to cycling…”get your act together” or something to that fact. I’m surprised that the IOC has not simply decided to kick cycling out of The Games since one doping scandal has followed another and the UCI seems powerless, or at least unwilling, to do much about it — except to drop the big hammer on some of the small fry while seeming to do everything in their power to help the big fish (BigTex, Il Pistolero, The Green Bullet, etc.) get away with it. But at least we now have the corruption at FIFA to show that it’s not just the cycling federation that’s rotten…the big question is how the hell can it be cleaned up?

Nic June 17, 2011 at 10:49 am

Larry T: a very good point you make there although if you were going to kick sports out because of past doping, you would also have to do it to Athletics, Swimming, Weightlifting, Rowing, Archery and Wrestling.
I think the fundamental flaw is that the UCI/WADA do not deal directly with the bans for cyclists who test positive. Why do they hand that decision over to the cyclist’s national cycling federation who will obviously have a conflict of interest? Why not make it so that all professional cyclists are licensed directly to the UCI and all doping investigations conducted and bans imposed by the UCI?

Matthew Taber June 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I thought that on the event of a positive doping test, that became a presumption of guilt (strict liability style offence) unless the rider/athlete could prove otherwise or show some other innocent reason for the drugs being in their system. I haven’t followed the detail of the case, so maybe I should try and work it out, but that seems to me to be an issue which isn’t being addressed?

Nic June 17, 2011 at 11:45 am

Matthew Taber: Also a very good point. If you think about it, in criminal law, there is presumption of innocence and the prosecution is forced to prove guilt. Here, it seems, the flipside is true: presume guilt, defendent has to prove innocence.

Matthew Taber June 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

Yup, there are a number of strict liability offences under English law, but those (like this) aren’t criminal. Speeding and most traffic offences are strict liability. Technically, this is all about actus reus (guilty or criminal deed/act) and mens rea (guilty mind). For a criminal offence to be proved, the prosecution need to show that both took place. For example, under English law, someone is guilty of theft if they “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive them of it”. The prosecution have to prove that not only did someone take something belonging to someone else, but that there was an element of dishonesty.

With strict liability offences, there is no requirement to show mens rea and therefore, if you can show that the actus reus has taken place, that’s it.

Now, back to bottom bracket standards please…….

Matt Rendell June 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

I’m with Matthew Taber on this. Strict liability surely means the onus is on Contador to prove his innocence, and no the contrary. Surely, under these circumstances, he should be allowed as long as he wants to do so, but should not be allowed to race until he has. In other words, due process in these circumstances should take into account wider realities.

The Inner Ring June 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Contador was suspended on the presumption of guilt, until cleared by the RFEC.

It’s because we have an appeal by both the UCI and WADA that this is dragging on. I’m wary of Contador’s presence in the sport but if a rider is cleared, it’s a big step to ban them during any appeal procedure, especially since the appeal is actually against the RFEC and Contador.

The problem is the RFEC made a fairly liberal, if not confused ruling. There was apparent political pressure to absolve Contador in Spain, something Pat McQuaid has expressed concern about (http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mcquaid-spanish-poltical-pressure-made-contador-appeal-necessary). The RFEC took rogue steak hypothesis without much evidence, thus overturning the strict liability principle so dear to WADA and flouting the UCI rules that state a ban can only be shortened if evidence can comfortably satisfy people that food contamination was the reason.

All together, it means the RFEC’s verdict is unsatisfactory for everyone involved and needs to be tested in the appeal.

Oliver June 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Alberto Contador is a cheat but also a VIP so the UCI bent the rules for him. Most other cyclists in this situation would have been punished right away (some have). The whole sport is a joke at this point, in particular the Tour de France. How can you get excited about the outcome? Contador is so doped it is virtually certain he will win but it is also quite likely he will be punished (eventually) for cheating. Either way pro-cycling looses. The watching public? Chumps or masochists.
If he is punished this Tour and the previous one will rightly be considered to have been a joke.
If he is not punished this Tour and the previous one will rightly be considered to have been a joke.

Anonymous June 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm

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breathe deeply then repeat : I love cycling and this sport is beautiful , I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, I love cycling and this sport is beautiful, …

Matthew Taber June 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Ah, I remember now, thanks inrg. The hearing is actually the world governing body and the world anti doping authority appealing against the preposterous decision of the national body. As a simple principal, there has to be a ban no matter what extenuating circumstances there are, but it might be shortened.

Back to Anonymous’ chant though!

ColoradoGoat June 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Has anyone else read this press release as an indication that the UCI is expecting (based on the way the case is proceeding) that Alberto is going to get off on this one?

Beth June 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm

In Reply to ColoradoGoat: Well, yes. I think there have been a lot of subtle little clues that some people in high places are expecting him to get off or get off very lightly. I have come to believe that the UCI “expects” CAS to essentially accept the meat hypothesis but still hold him to strict liability and give him that same original 6 months that he got so indignant about way last winter. A retroactive 6 months that will let him keep the Giro title but probably not last year’s Tour. And they are trying to “help pave the way” for that eventual outcome with a minimum of damage. I hate to see the way they try to muzzle everyone, even the fans and the public at large. Good luck to them.

Kathy June 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Beth and ColoradoGoat: Plus, don’t forget the original story about WADA looking at the possibility of introducing a minimum threshold for a clenbuterol positive. This was refuted in a later report but the original story had to come from somewhere.

Bundle June 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Oliver: although one can suppose this sport is always a bit of a joke, I disagree with considering all races, past or future, where there were or will be participants, or even winners, who doped or at least found to be doped. Because I am positive that about all of Contador’s rivals are playing the same game of “get doped, but make sure you don’t get caught, so do it smartly and better not overdoit”. Contador is indeed stronger than his rivals.

Jennifer June 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Just catching up on all the gazillion blog posts it seems recently and quite frankly tired of all the Contador blah-blah, but I love the elephant picture. Need to bring that with me to a board meeting this weekend.

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