Yesterday Danish and Norwegian media made allegations that Jakob Fuglsang of the Astana team was in contact with banned doctor Michele Ferrari. It’s all been denied and makes for a strange story with a political tone.
As background Michele Ferrari has got a lifetime ban in the wake of the USADA enquiry into the US Postal team. Working with him risks a ban under the anti-doping rules of “Prohibited Association”, indeed even being seen chatting on a park bench or sipping a coffee together can activate this rule with the burden on the athlete to prove they were meeting innocently although it’s hard to find practical examples of the rule being enforced.
Sunday’s reports – Politiken helpfully has an English version but it’s also on Danish TV and in the Norwegian media too which is notable as suggests this not one outlet going rogue for a few clicks – claim to be from the CADF, the UCI’s anti-doping office and alleges Fuglsang and also Alexey Lutsenko have been on contact with Ferrari. The Astana team has issued a statement which says it knows nothing about this case but interesting says it doesn’t work with “suspicious doctors” when one of its medical staff, Dr Andrei Mikhailov, is a convicted criminal. Similarly Michele Ferrari takes to his website to rebut every item of the story line by line too.
Even if fake it’s very damaging. Dirt sticks and Fuglsang had a great season last year and many are quick to make the connection, to see this as the explanation. For the general public pro cycling is famous for this kind of news so many will read the headlines and nod, many cycling fans likewise given Astana have a chequered history to put it mildly to the point where the team licence has been in jeopardy, the team has suspended itself, they’ve had a special audit and they’ve quit the MPCC too. Everything else being equal if you were a rider you’d want a premium for signing with Astana because of the reputational issues. Harsh perhaps and partly because they’ve been around for so long but valid too given the team boss Alexandr Vinokourov has served a doping ban and admitted to working with Ferrari. But none of this equates to guilt today, there are investigations, hearings and more to go through.
Reading the Runes
Behind all of this is the news over the weekend that the UCI is to merge its CADF anti-doping unit into the International Testing Agency (ITA). The ITA has been set up by the International Olympic Committee as an agency to which sports federations can outsource their anti-doping efforts to. The logic is federations can avoid cronyism charges by not being in charge of this and there’s cost savings and expertise with a centralised agency rather than every sport having its own anti-doping experts, legal departments and so on. There are also allegations that UCI President David Lappartient is boosting this IOC agency and in return they’ll look more favourably on him for a spot as Member. The CADF has issued statements saying it wishes to remain independent… ie part of the UCI. So is the leak designed to show the CADF is on the case and worth keeping as it’s capable of deploying crafty means to put riders and banned doctors under surveillance? Or is the leak meant to show up the CADF as leaky and unprofessional?
Is the report genuine? Politiken has images from a report and the whole matter could be cleared up if the CADF or UCI can explain whether the document is authentic or not (the UCI says it hasn’t seen the report). If it is real then presumably the CADF have evidence to back up the presentational slides they’ve furnished, think sleuthy surveillance photographs, and suddenly there’s a lot of explaining to do. But we’re far from this point.
The leak itself is of interest, several reputable sources have run with it and it comes at a time when the CADF’s future is on the line. Coincidence? But the main story which will have reached millions already is that Astana’s star riders could be working with a banned doping doctor. Only all we’ve got is circumstantial evidence so far, we’re at the “he said, she said” stage with an apparent report written for the CADF leaked to the Scandinavian media. This will bolstered by the heuristic of the Astana team’s past but this is compounding the suspicion, not proving anything. The CADF can help clear this up very quickly.
- Update, Wednesday 5 February: the CADF has issued a statement confirming the document was authentic but after reviewing its contents they will not be taking proceedings against anyone involved. Case closed.