“One can only regret the time lag between the sports and media, and that of justice”
Those are the words of Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme, discussing the almost never-ending series of delays and postponments to the saga that is Alberto Contador’s positive test for Clenbuterol. Reading the Velonation article, Prudhomme says he “won’t block Contador” but he is frustrated with the delays and rightly so given the uncertainties, question marks and apparent inability of the sport to sort out this matter.
In the piece, I saw a timeline of events mentioned. I think it might be worth going in to greater detail here, to explore why this is taking so long, and to revisit the basic rules in the light of these delays, in case we forget what it’s all about.
21 July: samples collected during Tour de France rest day
24 August: Contador “informed” of positive test
29 September: news of the positive test leaked to a German TV station
30 September: the announcement that Contador is formally suspended by the UCI
8 November: the UCI asks the Spanish Federation (RFEC) to start disciplinary hearings
26 January: RFEC imposes a one year ban on Contador
15 February: RFEC verdict clears Contador
14 March: UCI confirms it will appeal the RFEC ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)
Now I don’t know if you’re good at reading between the line but in the chronology above, every single item is separated by delay caused by the UCI.
Indeed I have it on good authority that the public timings, as presented here, might not be the full story. It appears the lab results from Contador’s positive tests were received earlier by the UCI and the information given in late August was when confirmation of both the A and B samples came back positive. By this time plenty of work was being done to get to the bottom of the case and, if you believe El Pais, the UCI was seeking to bury the story… until it went public after a leak.
Regardless, we still see well over a month’s delay until the UCI instructs the RFEC to handle the matter. Then the Spanish authorities play it slow, not reaching a verdict until mid-February. But the UCI rules require a faster verdict, indeed any delay of more than a month is supposed to result in a fine for every extra week of delay (UCI rule 280). After three months, the UCI is meant to take the matter to the CAS (Rule 281). In the end the RFEC ruled three months and a week.
Then the UCI announced it would appeal, but not until the very last day of the window to appeal, meaning more delay. In mitigation, note at the time the UCI was busy at the CAS with the Franco Pellezotti case but all the same, it’s another month of delay.
And now we hear the CAS has delayed the original hearing of the appeals from June to August. Indeed it is possible that the August hearings are delayed too.
But what of the rules?
295. Where a Rider or Rider Support Personnel can establish how a Specified Substance entered his body or came into his possession and that such Specified Substance was not intended to enhance the Rider’s sport performance or mask the use of a performance-enhancing substance, the period of Ineligibility for a first violation found in article 293 shall be replaced with the following: at a minimum, a reprimand and no period of Ineligibility from future Events, and at a maximum, two (2) years of Ineligibility. To justify any elimination or reduction, the License-Holder must produce corroborating evidence in addition to his word which establishes to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel the absence of an intent to enhance sport performance or mask the use of a performance enhancing substance. The License-Holder’s degree of fault shall be the criterion considered in assessing any reduction of the period of Ineligibility.
That’s a reminder of the another UCI rule. In summary, Contador has to produce evidence to comfortably satisfy the hearing panel if he wants any reduction in the ban. Note this isn’t a question of “the balance of probability” or even plain old satisfaction but “comfortable satisfaction” which implies that everyone hearing the case has to be agreed that Contador has presented evidence that comfortable points to one cause and not the most plausible scenario. In the absence of such comfort the rules are black and white: a two year ban.
We should all be in favour of due process. There’s no point rushing something like this. But I can’t help feel we’ve seen the opposite, a series of deliberate delays. Rather than expediting this important case, we’re now at the point where the Tour de France will revisit Pau in July and there’s still no resolution.
There are sophisticated arguments here over strict liability, and past precedents like Rory Sutherland, table tennis player Dimitrij Ovcharov and more. So it can take time to build a case and if there’s any good here it is that this could lead to the matter of strict liability and contamination being settled for good, we’ll no longer see such variability, from Fuyu Li to Contador.
Word of caution
But for all the delays here note that if Contador and his entourage are found to have played for time so he can rack up more wins, earn more money and bank more prizes, all whilst proving incapable of showing he ingested contaminated meat then the CAS may well take a very dim view.