I’m a big supporter of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Its moves to internationalise, harmonise and scrutinise the anti-doping component of sports is surely one of the greatest advances in fair-play in recent years.
Only in Spain many have a very different view today. Here’s an explanation as to why more than just the Pyrenees separate Spain from others in Europe.
First, the cartoon above. It’s from Spanish sports daily Marca. Piratas is pirates but note the capitalised TAS is the Spanish term for the Court of Abritration for Sport (CAS) and we have the swarthy pirates of the UCI with their French parrots. I’m not sure why the French are involved given they’ve not played a role here, except for hosting the Tour de France of course. Such cartoons appear nationalist and jingoist and probably whip up sentiment although I don’t read Marca every day and perhaps they regularly mock doping cheats like Alejandro Valverde with insulting cartoons. I suspect not.
But the cartoon is too easy, it is far to simple to watch Marca mocking foreign pirates and draw lessons of people getting prickly, defensive and supporting their national champions. Instead it’s more sophisticated. First, it is not just Spaniards rushing to defend Contador. Eddy Merckx is one of many who have criticised the verdict; both for the delay and the outcome. Second, many are saying “but so and so was absolved after a positive test” but in most cases cited it involved athletes eating beef in countries with demonstrably high levels of contamination, which alters the probability substantially.
Martin Hardie, an Australian law researcher knows Spain well. In a wide ranging piece covering the legal aspects of the case, he explains how the legal crosses the cultural:
…in Spain, since the end of Fascism [inrng: in 1977], there is a real focus on justice. After years of people disappearing without trial and without trace the Spanish support the notion of citizens having substantive legal rights. That is why the Spanish judge who is their equivalent of the Chief Justice of the High Court here in Australia came out at the time of the original Spanish decision clearing Contador saying that to find him guilty would be contrary to the normal sense of justice. In contrast to this is the absolute nature of cycling’s rules in relation to positive drug tests, no matter how small the amount
Whether the history hypothesis holds true I don’t know, but there’s a split between the rules of WADA and the UCI and the natural sense of justice that’s valid in many countries. To explain, nobody has proven Contador was doping, all we know is that a modest quantity of a banned substance was detected and for this Contador is faced with losing two grand tours, repaying prize money and a giant legal bill and that’s before the CAS rules on a fine. That’s what the absolute nature of the rules request and you can probably see why some are upset.
But the history of sport is littered with athletes suspended after taking cold remedies or eating something contaminated and Contador had not spoken out about this before, instead he signed up to the rules when he took out a racing licence. Indeed not everyone in Spain is outraged. Here is the establishment daily El Pais and its editorial today, entitled Pruebas y sospechas (proof and suspicion):
The Contador case was handled politically with a lot of errors. We should remember that the RFEC wanted to impose a one year ban. The UCI and WADA would have accepted this: but Contador wanted to be cleared. Prime Minister Zapatero declared that there was “no reason to sanction Contador” … …on the same facts one institution cleared him (the RFEC), the other ordered the full penalty. Despite a legal labyrinth, the sanction imposed on Contador and the reactions in Spain show there is a more tolerant attitude towards doping than abroad.
If Contador finds many supporters at home, some of this is due to loyalty and patriotism; in the past I’ve found tales of “injustice” over Valverde’s DNA match with bloodbags labelled with his dog’s name absurd. Yet it’s not just blind support, there are real questions over the principle of strict liability and its absolutist, hard nature and when such a big name goes down for a matter like this it makes the front pages… and cartoons.
The CAS is no pirate outfit, it specialises in sports arbitration which is subtly different from justice: it is there to rule on the rules, not reshape them.
The WADA Code is tough and harsh. If there are questions over strict liability… nobody seems to have any answers. Without WADA’s Code sport would probably be in a worse state and the CAS has upheld these rules, it is only a messenger. If any good comes of this, it is a giant reminder to all athletes to take the utmost caution about what they eat and drink to minimise their chances of falling foul. Oh and Spanish beef is safe to eat.