Look closely at the two screengrabs from La Gazzetta dello Sport and see what’s different. Sure see one is more pink, the font is different and the picture changes. But the headlines about Michele Ferrari and a €30 million web of suspect payments and pro cyclist contracts are the same. So what is the big difference? Time.
The first image is from 2012 and the second is from Thursday. Having read both stories they’re almost the same, only the 2014 version has just a bit more detail on the payments and drops more names. Why has the same story come back again?
The story is back because the police investigation seems to have come to an end and the file has been given to the Italian Olympic Committee for review and potential prosecution. The legal case is not over because the claims of tax evasion and other non-sporting matters will presumably continue.
The big question for me is what did the UCI do in 2012? It too would have seen the headlines and did it decide to act, perhaps call in those named and get them to sign sworn depositions? Or did it just sit back and wait for the Italian police to carry on in the hope the file might one day arrive.
Timing matters and all this came out at the same time as the USADA report into Lance Armstrong, in fact some of it was linked. Perhaps the UCI was blown of course by the USADA report, especially given the presidential implication of the governing body after it had invested so much capital trying to stop the US agency and commandeer the files.
As it happens a chunk of the police file was already delivered to the UCI in 2012 as some of the Padova investigation was included in the USADA file. Interpol brokered a meeting between the FBI and the Nucleo Antisofisticazione e Sanità (NAS), an Italian police force dedicated to health measures and an Italian state prosecutor from Padova called Benedetto Roberti. Once again here’s an excerpt of it:
And once again you’ve probably seen the image above on this blog before. It’s from the accounts of part of the Ferrari empire and implicates Alexandr Vinokourov. As we saw with Fränk Schleck, wiring money to a doctor of dope is not a crime nor a breach of the rules and crucially nor is it proof of doping. But it should be ringing alarm bells, especially when Vinokourov is trying to get his team to pass an ethics test to get a licence. In fact Brian Cookson says this should be looked at by the UCI’s Licence Commission in an interview with cyclingnews.com:
Cyclingnews: The Padova inquiry reveals what we could call ‘financial doping,’ with riders perhaps attempting to avoid paying tax by having image rights paid into accounts in Switzerland and then using that black money as slush funds to pay people like Ferrari for doping. Is that something the UCI should be looking at as well? That’s about ethics and contracts too…
Brian Cookson: Absolutely. This is one of the reasons why we’ve established the Licence Commission and why they have those criteria…
Only the Licence Commission was operational in 2012 and didn’t follow this up. Maybe we’ll never know why the case wasn’t followed up in 2012. The Padova news wasn’t a two line piece or tucked away on a blog, it was a major story in the Italian media. It also started well before the USADA report came out and in the summer of 2012 journalist Eugenio Capodacqua, the scourge of dopers on the Italian peninsula, got hold of the story and printed it his La Republica column. When confronted, Pozzato admitted to working with Ferrari but said he was only paying for training schedules. Another one.
Déjà vu, again
If most of today’s news about Ferrari, Astana and other teams really emerged in 2012, let’s not stop there. Yesterday Astana was given a warning its new licence for 2015 could hang by a thread, any new troubles and the team is out. We’ve been here before too, only with a different team. The current troubles of Astana mirror the Katusha team’s past difficulty in getting a licence. On 18 November 2011 the Katusha team was given a “severe warning” that “the team would be likely to have its license withdrawn in the event of a new doping case”. Those are the words of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the PDF verdict Katusha’s licence appeal from 2013 has since been taken down) and in April 2012 later Dennis Galimzyanov was rumbled for EPO. The result? Katusha kept its licence during 2012 and it was only in the application for 2013 that saw the team denied a place which it won back.
Some of the news is new, for example La Gazzetta printed the claim Vinokourov was in talks with Stefano Ferrari to train 10-12 riders. But today’s story about the money, tax dodging and suspect contracts? It’s almost identical to 2012, we get more details and refinements – yesterday’s claim that but the fundamental story is the same. History repeats itself and there’s been an element of farce over the Astana licence. At times it feels like the sport can’t escape the past, this week’s headlines cover a police enquiry covering 2010 and 2011, will we learn about any 2014 investigations in 2020?
It’s too much to expect the UCI to have gotten to the bottom of everything in 2012 but had strict warnings been given to the team on the basis of the documented details in print and the USADA report then the Iglinskiy brothers might have been the final straw and there’d be no licence.