Valverde and the 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, leaving the sword to 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.

From ancient Greece to present day Switzerland where the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) begins a hearing into Alejandro Valverde on Thursday.

First, Valverde was linked to the Spanish doping ring apparently run by Eufamio Fuentes in Madride. Valverde has been banned by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) from racing in Italy after CONI said a blood sample taken from Valverde when the 2008 Tour de France traveled into Italy matched DNA from blood bags seized during a May 2006 raid in Spain. Things took their course and in May 2009 Valverde was banned for two years from racing in Italy, meaning he had to sit out the Tour de France because one alpine stage dipped into Italy.

All this created an inconsistent mess: one of the world’s top riders was banned from racing in Italy for doping offences… committed in Spain. There was evidence floating around suggesting Valverde had questions to answer but only the Italians banned him, he was able to race in France but not Italy.

Valverde duly appealed to CAS to get the Italian ban overturned. Back in January he submitted telephone evidence from South Australia where he was staying for the Tour Down Under. The UCI and WADA tried to join this appeal, opposing Valverde and aiming to get the ban extended to a worldwide ban. CAS provisionally ruled against this saying their hearing was only about the Italian ban, they would not rule on a worldwide action.

This week
Now Valverde and his lawyers will be back in Lausanne. The UCI and WADA say that the Italian evidence is enough to ban the rider and are demanding that the Spanish Cycling Federation takes action. The Italan Ettore Torri explained the inconsistency:

The law must be equal towards everyone. Judge Serrano sent us all the documentation in order to take action against Basso and Scarponi, but then refused to do it in Valverde’s case.

But so far the Spanish authorities have sat on the evidence for reasons unknown. Some whisper its because they don’t want to embarrass Spanish sport as a whole, for Fuentes might be linked to footballers and tennis players.

Either way, Valverde has questions to answer. He is racing in major events but with a huge question mark dangling over his head. How can it be that he’s banned in one country but free to race in another?

In some respects you have to admire Valverde’s determination, the possibility of the ban and the media pressure are huge yet he is still competiting at the highest level. At the same time you might be saddened to see him win races that others should be enjoying. Scarponi leading Tirreno-Adriatico can leave a bitter taste but the Italian has served a full ban and the facts are on the table, with Valverde there’s just question marks instead of justice, he’s been free to race. For his own sake and for the sake of sport, the CAS ruling cannot come soon enough.

2 thoughts on “Valverde and the Sword of Damocles”

  1. The impression I got from reading the last information from CAS was that Valverde wasn't challenging the facts of the evidence but the specific point of whether CONI had jurisdiction to use evidence from a criminal investigation in Spain as the basis for a sporting ban in Italy.

    That's clever legal practice to go after the weakest point in their case but it still leaves entirely open the question of his involvement in Puerto.

    Loving the blog by the way, great insights.

  2. As you say Alex, most of his opposition has been procedural and jurisdictional rather than on the fundamental matter of innocence.

    That said Valverde did offer to give some DNA to be tested outside of Italy which is a bold move but I don't know if the offer still stands: if it does he should be handing out copies of his DNA profile to every passing journalist to put the pressure back on CONI.

    Also, Valverde is only under fire because of an obvious codename and an administrative bungle that saw his DNA sent to Italy. This shouldn't just a Valverde witch hunt, he risks becoming a lightning rod for anti-doping sentiment. For me, this is a systemic issue, it's not about one rider.

    Once again there's inconsistency here, if the sword hangs above Valverde then others – who were named in leaked police documents – now seem beyond reach.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog too!

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