Contador case: questions being asked about change in direction of RFEC decision
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Contador case: questions being asked about change in direction of RFEC decision

by Shane Stokes at 2:22 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Suggestions that a one year ban may have been dropped at last moment

Alberto ContadorThe Disciplinary Committee of the Spanish cycling federation RFEC insisted yesterday that no outside influence played a part in the decision made to clear Alberto Contador.

The federation had proposed a one year ban on January 26th, giving time for the rider and his legal team to either accept or reject this, and to come up with additional arguments in the case of the latter. Contador’s legal team decided to fight the one year ban and provided additional documentation; against expectations, the RFEC then did an about-turn and decided not to sanction Contador at all.

UCI President Pat McQuaid said today that he felt that undue influence could have been involved. “It’s up to sport to police itself,” he told reporters at the Tour of Oman. “I don’t think it should be interfered with by politicians who don’t know the full facts of the cases and then make statements that are purely political statements. I wasn’t surprised when you see it’s Spain. Nothing surprises me that comes from Spain. But it’s disappointing.”

There were several incidences of high-profile individuals and parties who commented on the case in recent days. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said last week on Twitter that he believed “there's no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador."

Both the Spanish Social Democrat Party (PSOE) and Popular Party also backed Contador’s claims that he didn’t knowingly ingest the substance and should therefore be cleared. Notably, Angel Juanes, président of the Audiencia Nacional Española, the highest legal court after the supreme court, said in El Mundo on Sunday that the rider could not be found guilty under Spanish law.

In what might be interpreted as a very unusual public commentary prior to a sensitive sporting decision, Juanes told the newspaper that Contador “has not doped” and “should be acquitted.”

Despite the fact that the RFEC was still officially weighing up the case, he then listed his reasons why he felt that Contador should be cleared. “In the proposed one-year sanction, it has already been noted that the rider has not doped and that the ingestion of clenbuterol is so minimal that it doesn’t serve to improve performance; that should be sufficient for acquittal—he should be acquitted,” he asserted.

“But the problem is that there’s an article that establishes that the athlete is always responsible for what appears in his body.” He said that this meant that in cycling, a person is effectively guilty until proven innocent, and that this clashed with Spanish law.

“The presumption of innocence is a guarantee, which in this case is not provided for, because the accused cyclist has to prove the causal relationship between the presence of clenbuterol in his body and determining cause of its ingestion.”

He further asserted that the RFEC was following “an antiquated rule,” and that it was “necessary to change some ideas.”

Finally, Juanes said that a threshold needed to be set for Clenbuterol, below which doping could not be considered as a source. “If no threshold is established, the rule is intrinsically unjust.”

Undue influence or not?

In a statement on the RFEC website yesterday, the judges assessing Contador’s case insisted that outside influence had not played a part. “Those comments are so disrespectful that they damage the sensibility and professionalism of the members of this Committee…they question whether the decision is the result of an independent legal analysis and deep reflection, trying to reduce the activity of this Committee to a mere transcriber of views of certain media and politicians, which is simply unacceptable and simply wrong.”

Commentators, particularly those outside Spain, have however been critical of the commentary from senior figures which occurred prior to a decision. Furthermore, Juanes’ statements appear to suggest that a ruling sanctioning Contador would have broken Spanish law. Some may interpret this as warning to the RFEC; others may regard as simply an ill-timed commentary on the eve of a major sporting decision.

Either way, correctly or not, it plus the statements by Zapatero, the Spanish Social Democrat Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party have provided ammunition for those who question Spain’s treatment of doping cases. And while the Contador decision was broadly applauded in Spain, outside the country’s borders the reaction was more mixed.

Speaking to the New York Times prior to the decision, US Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart said he was concerned by suggestions that the RFEC judges were about to clear the rider without sanction.

“It’s a very, very unique set of facts that would justify someone being completely cleared, so unique that we haven’t seen it at all, at least here in the United States,” he said. “If there’s truly been a flip-flop, as reported, it appears to be a classic example of the fox protecting the henhouse. It would look like they are protecting a national hero.”

La Gazzetta dello Sport cried foul, blasting Spain for what it suggested was a record protecting those it should police. It said the country was “always looking at some foreign plot against the golden era of Spanish sport. Spain, which cannot get rid of Eufemiano Fuentes, has protected at all costs a guilty Alejandro Valverde, and now it embraces Alberto Contador. But the legal road is not over yet.”

Respected L’Equipe journalist Damien Ressiot was equally critical. “I’ve been dealing with doping in different sports for ten years and I've never been faced with such political interference in a sporting affair, at least in the major European countries that have signed an agreement and recognize the World Anti-Doping Code.

“I find it absolutely unbelievable and outrageous that the prime minister himself is allowed to enter the fray by requesting that Contador is cleared. I think Spain has a real problem with doping, even if Mr. Lissavetzky, Secretary of State for Sports, disagrees with that. "

RFEC president Juan Carlos Castaño has gone on record as welcoming the outcome. “There is no doubt that Alberto Contador is the best cyclist in the world so it's great news for cycling and all sports in Spain,” he said, according to Cyclism’Actu.

In what may be a nod to Juanes, he insisted that the legal system was the reason for the decision. “The decision was taken on the basis of law and there has been no change of mind of the committee. What you should know is that the proposal is one thing but the final decision is reached once that all parties have been heard. The decision confirmed to the law.”

However VeloNation has received information from sources close to the investigation which suggests that as late as the end of last week, the RFEC was still looking likely to hand the rider a twelve month sanction, and that the UCI had been informed of this conclusion. The decision had been due to be announced on Friday, when its spokesman Enrico Carpani was in Madrid.

Despite that, it is understood that due to behind-the-scenes pressure from individuals in positions of influence, a last-minute change of mind occurred and the disciplinary committee of the RFEC decided that it would clear the rider of all charges.

Sources have also told VeloNation that tensions were high amongst senior figures in the RFEC concerning the reversal of the initial decision.

The UCI and WADA have both said that they are awaiting the details of the ruling before deciding if they will appeal. The UCI has 30 days after receiving the document to notify the Court of Arbitration for Sport, while WADA has an additional 21 days.

As CAS told VeloNation earlier, the final outcome might not come until after the start of the Tour de France on July 2nd. If Contador does take part, it could mean that twelve months after the 2010 Tour, attention is still focussed on what happened one year earlier.

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