Yesterday The Court of Arbitration for Sport said it will deliver its verdict in two weeks’ time. The news of an additional delay prompted wisecracks like needing a geologist to measure the time taken and apparently the CAS is still chewing over an appeal from the Macedonians to settle the javelin competition from the 776BC Olympiad.
But it’s no joke that Contador tested positive for clenbuterol 545 days ago. Why is this so long? Here’s a timeline of events. By my reckoning, everyone involved has delayed and maximised the time taken.
|21 July 2010||samples collected during Tour de France rest day|
|24 August 2010||Contador informed of positive test|
|29 September 2010||news of the positive test leaked to a German TV station|
|30 September 2010||the announcement that Contador is formally suspended by the UCI|
|8 November 2010||UCI asks the RFEC to start disciplinary hearings|
|26 January 2011||RFEC proposes a one year ban on Contador|
|15 February 2011||RFEC verdict clears Contador|
|14 March 2011||UCI confirms it will appeal the RFEC ruling at the CAS|
|26 May 2011||CAS postpones hearing from June to August|
|25 July 2011||CAS postpones hearing from August to November|
|21 December 2011||CAS says verdict expected between 15-20 January|
|16 January 2012||CAS postpones announcement of verdict for two weeks|
Each line marks a date but a lot has happened in between each event. Indeed, just look at the delays involved. It took over a month to inform Contador of his positive test. During this period Contador conveniently declared an injury ruled him out of racing but it took another month for German journalist Hajo Seppelt to flush the news out from the UCI. That’s two months to make the positive test official, a long delay by itself.
This then set off a chain of further delays. One week later the UCI swings into action to ask the Spanish cycling federation, the RFEC, to review the case but this takes a lot of time, in fact it takes too long. Any delay of more than a month is supposed to result in a fine for every extra week of delay (UCI rule 280) but I understand no fine was levied. 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, stretching the time taken out.
Come the spring of 2011 and the UCI took the maximum possible period of time to decide to appeal. Nothing wrong with that, checking the details before launching legal action always makes sense. But it’s another part of the delay and note that the UCI had its hands full and lawyers working full time on prosecuting Franco Pellizotti and others with its pioneer bio passport scheme back then.
Then came a series of delays at the CAS. We were due to have the hearing last June but whilst Contador was busy in the Giro d’Italia, his lawyers were asking for the hearing to be postponed. This was granted and the hearing moved to August, perfect timing to ensure a worry-free approach the Tour de France.
By then the complexity of the case was becoming apparent with sophisticated arguments being used on all sides. All parties involved were submitting prolific documentation and argumentation. In order to avoid being overwhelmed all agreed to postpone the hearing from August to November.
We then had the hearing in late November where all sides, incluiding Contador, spent several days at the CAS to plead their case. We now know this was a heated affair at times with WADA’s lawyers almost walking out at one point; when this news leaked earlier this month the CAS froze its deliberations to check all parties were happy and they have now said yes, which explains the most recent delay.
So that’s why things have taken so long. Many sports fans, more used to photo-finishes and instant race reports, find this delay impossible but the wheels of justice are not deep section carbon rims with ceramic bearings. In some cases people and organisations involved have broken their own rules regarding time tables but in other instances it’s because the case is complicated that people have asked for more time, which is only fair.
It still matters
The 2010 Tour de France might seem distant now but all this isn’t only to settle the result of races past although that is still highly significant. But the verdict could change the future of sport too. If there was a ban then Saxo Bank team would be in trouble as their key man disappears. No ban and WADA’s Code, its bible, could be undermined if the principle of strict liability is dropped. Whoever loses is going to pay big legal bills.
No end date
I’m hoping yesterday’s announcement that the verdict is coming is the legal version of the flamme rouge and that we’re closing in on the finish line for this saga.
But the CAS verdict is not the end date. First the verdict can be appealed to the Swiss courts but generally the courts only rule on whether due process has been followed by the CAS, they do not get involved in the interpretation of the WADA code or the concentration levels of a banned substance. Then there’s a final stage of appeal, going to the European Courts of Human Rights in Strasbourg but this could take years and would only be a sideshow that rumbled on in the background.
This case has taken a long time but hopefully it’s in the finishing straight right now. The delays are frustrating but don’t blame the CAS alone, the 545 days are down to practically every party involved in this case delaying or asking for more time. And although the story is going stale it matters for the future of sport, WADA and more.