Hajo Seppelt Interview Part 2: more on the Alberto Contador positive case
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Monday, April 04, 2011

Hajo Seppelt Interview Part 2: more on the Alberto Contador positive case

by Shane Stokes at 11:02 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
German anti-doping journalist comments further

Hajo SeppeltGerman TV journalist Hajo Seppelt was one of the first to learn of Alberto Contador’s positive test, being informed about the case several weeks before the news was officially released. As he told VeloNation in part one of this interview, he was informed about the result by someone who was concerned about the delay in releasing the news of the rider’s positive for Clenbuterol.

“There are sources in the international world of cycling, particularly in Spain, who don’t like to play the game. They hate the way people try to hide the stories in cycling, they don’t take that any more,” he said.

Contador tested positive on the second rest day of the Tour de France, close to the end of the race. He took his third Tour title in Paris the following Sunday, but now risks losing it. The Spanish federation’s decision to clear him of all charges has enabled him to retain the title for now. However the UCI’s appealing of the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport means that there is a chance he will be handed a suspension and lose that third Tour crown.

WADA last week confirmed that it too will appeal the decision. For now, it is following a separate appeal; it remains to be seen if it will combine with the UCI, as CAS has suggested is possible, or if it will pursue its own case and possibly introduce any supplementary evidence it deems relevant.

The UCI has already set out the terms of its appeal, saying that it is not satisfied that Contador provided sufficient evidence to prove that he accidentally consumed Clenbuterol in his food. It has however refuted a story last week in l’Equipe saying that it would pursuit blood doping charges, due to reported high levels of plasticizers. Saxo Bank SunGard has also contacted VeloNation on the issue, stating that the UCI is looking at Clenbuterol alone, and that it was time for the plasticizer issue to be put to one side by the media.

Since then, it has not yet responded to a follow-up question about whether it believes that issue has also been ruled out by WADA.

New science yet to be approved:

The latter has been one of the most unusual aspects of the case. When Seppelt first commented on the Contador situation last October, he spoke of the Clenbuterol positive, but also about what he said were reports of high levels of plasticizers. This chemical can enter the system after transfusions and can thus suggest the possibility of blood doping. However because there are other sources too, including traces in food from storage materials, their presence alone is not at this point in time considered absolute proof of wrongdoing.

A test was announced last December and appeared to show some degree of correlation between high plasticizer levels and transfusions. However it has not yet been validated by WADA and research is ongoing. In the meantime, the agency’s director general David Howman has said that high levels of the substance in sportspeople can be used as supplementary evidence.

WADA has declined to comment on the specifics of the Contador case itself.

VeloNation spoke to Seppelt about his suggestions of high levels, as well as other subjects including the Spanish media’s treatment of the case, the Lance Armstrong investigation, the biological passport and why he believes the Ovcharov situation is very different to that of Contador.

Note: part one of this interview is here:

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VeloNation: UCI President Pat McQuaid and Alberto Contador’s lawyer have both denied that the plasticizer issue is part of the UCI’s appeal against the rider. The issue is a little complicated as there is currently no validated test to link levels of the substance with doping, although WADA has said that suspicious levels in sportspeople can be used to form part of a case.

Are you satisfied that your information about plasticizers being present came from a good source?

Hajo Seppelt: Yes. I can say that the source who gave me information about the positive test for Clenbuterol and all things relating to that [including plasticizers] was a very serious one.

Alberto ContadorVN: By that you mean it was a reliable source?

HS: Yes.

VN: The issue is slightly vague as there can be several sources for plasticizers. Can you explain what you did when you heard about these levels?

HS: Well, when I got this information I had to go to other people who are much more expert in this field. As I am not an expert in biochemistry, I have to trust people who later interpret [the data].

I got some papers at this time and was not sure how to interpret them. I went to people from independent labs in Germany - far away from sports - and asked them what it means. They told me that it is possible that you have plasticizer levels because of other causes…maybe you could have French fries from the supermarket and the plastics come from the bag.. In other words, there are always some levels in your body.

But the problem is that the coincidence of time in this period and the levels of plasticizers. Those levels indicated more strongly that there could possibly be something strange going on.

I could not get an answer to the question if these plasticizers which, according to my sources, might have been found in Contador’s sample are different to usual plasticizers you find, for example, in a French fries package in the supermarket. I didn't get a confirmation at this time about the specific plasticizer type they might have found in the Contador sample. But scientific experts told me that - in general - plasticizers are easy to differentiate. They said that you can analyse with a high level of probability that it came, for example, from a blood bag.

The plasticizer levels were apparently very high. For me, the only problem is that they [the RFEC] didn’t take it into consideration in their decision. The International Skiing Federation FIS is now testing for plasticizers, doing it at the cross country championships. They already do that.

VN: Did you expect WADA to get involved in an appeal against the RFEC ruling?

HS: Yes. I was talking to David Howman [about it] recently. It was absolutely strange that the Spanish federation indicated that they were likely to ask for a one year ban, but then, ten days later, they said that he has been cleared. That is absolutely new, I never heard this way of dealing with a doping case.

This was also David Howman’s opinion. He had a really emotional reaction. It was the first time I had heard that [in him]. If WADA didn’t appeal, it would be a complete defeat for the trust of doping controls in the whole world.

VN: Did you speak to David Howman about the plasticizer issue?

HS: No, we didn’t speak about that. I had only a five minute interview and had other questions to ask.

The problem is that in Autumn 2010, the plasticizer test had not been ratified. Otherwise, if you see the WADA Code you know that everything which indicates possible drug use could form part of a decision. If the issue is introduced to the case in the future, I could imagine that it will play a role [in deciding]…maybe not the most decisive one, but perhaps it could play a role.

The question at the end will be if you can compare the Ovcharov case [a German table tennis player positive for Clenbuterol who was cleared after ingesting food in China] with the Contador case. I think that everyone who is a little bit more involved in these two cases knows that they are not comparable.

The only thing which they have in common is that we talk about Clenbuterol, but the other stuff is totally different. The Spanish people argued, for example, the question of the dioxin scandal in German eggs, this is unbelievable. My feeling is: they use every argument, even the weakest they find, to get him free.

Media and federations:

Alberto ContadorVN: Are you surprised by the way that this case has been handled in Spain?

HS: Well, for me what is most astonishing is that I don’t understand the Spanish media…I cannot understand it. How many serious sports journalists do work on that story? Maybe there are some, but I don’t see them. Is there someone who is commenting independently on this story? I didn't read more than a few critical stories about Contador in Spain. The majority defended him. Why? Because he is a national hero? I cannot understand why sports journalists are not working in the way they should work. That means: independently.

For me, this is really disappointing. You see a country where people, politicians, and maybe also judges, journalists, people from many parts of the society – except the farmers – protect an athlete without considering all the details of all this very, very complicated case.

This is really a story that makes me believe more and more that you need independent people. You don’t need politicians, you don’t need federations for that. You need really independent people. It doesn’t mean that you automatically talk about WADA as I have my doubts that WADA is always independent, because sports federations try to influence WADA's efforts in the fight against doping. You need an institution which is paid neither by sports federations nor by governments. But I can imagine how complicated it is to create a really independent organisation.

It’s not just in Spain. If you see how they [the media] have dealt with Lance Armstrong, it is interesting. We also did research about him. I don’t understand how people at this stage now don’t take into consideration that the timing of his resigning this month could be linked to the [federal] investigation. I only read in the German newspaper that he resigned, that he had a good time, that he was now 39 years old and that he didn’t look back with a bad feeling, that everything he did was fine.

Nobody was commentating and saying that perhaps there was more to it. I didn’t understand why nobody in Germany's newspapers was even asking if there might have been at least links between those things.

VN: With regards to the Armstrong case, have you heard about any possible indictments?

HS: No, I didn’t hear about it, but I have good links to some people in the United States who support our research. We did a story in November about Armstrong. I was there for ten days. It was a Landis interview, I think it was at the end of October, so I went to several places in the United States.

I was in touch with Fabiani [Mark Fabiani, Armstrong’s spokesman], and as you imagine he declined to give any interview. Armstrong himself didn't want to talk to us, either.

The way they are dealing with this story is also very professional from their point of view, but I think this is a very hard situation for Armstrong. If you see all the details of this case, I think there will be an indictment in the final stage. That is my feeling now – I don’t know, maybe I am completely mistaken – but looking at all the details of this case, I can imagine that there will be an indictment.

VN: Given the questions asked of the Spanish federation, do you feel there is an argument to justify a new body for sanctioning, taking those decisions away from the national federations and governing bodies…?

HS: Yes..and not only in cycling, but also in other sports. There is always the same problem…it is not just a question for cycling. The problem for cycling is that the structure of the sport means that people are even more seduced by the possibility of doping than in other sports, and it makes it more dangerous.

You do have the same structures of thinking in other federations, there is no difference, but cycling is more in danger to have this problem of drug abuse every year. In this sport, you see it more clearly.

It is absolutely necessary for professional sports and every federation to avoid a conflict of interest. That means having independent people who are doing the anti-doping work. For example, if you see labs which are funded by WADA because they give them money for research about certain drugs, they would never be independent any more; they cannot say any negative word about WADA. If they did that, they perhaps would not get money in future. That is one problem, for example.

Or if a federation considers doing the analysing in a special lab, but then the lab criticises the federation because they don’t think the way the federation is working on doping issues is good, the consequence would be that the lab will not get the order to analyse the samples. Next consequence: they don’t get any money. So there is also a lack of independence there.

Biological passport and the future of sport:

VN: Cycling has the biological passport, so do you think the sport is cleaner than in the past?

HS: Yes, I think it is better. I really feel that people are more careful because they know that they can be detected.

I want to add something here – some people think we criticise the whole UCI…but that is not true. I think that regarding the medical staff, regarding the biological passport programme, the UCI is better than other federations. But I see a bigger problem in the marketing and governing part of the UCI, that is where they have the conflict of interests.

VN: But for a young rider who is starting the sport, do you think it is possible to compete clean because of the biological passport?

Riccardo RiccoHS: Well…I think it is possible to begin clean.. Yet if you see the Riccò case, for me this is unbelievable. This is so annoying and it destroys the whole belief and the trust in sport if people like Riccò seem to do the same or similar things that they did before.

I do have little trust in [the governance] of cycling. You have to change the people who are in charge of decisions. Federations and teams…you cannot work with the same people, there must be a totally new beginning for the world of cycling. That is my feeling. My opinion is that you need to change the people to find a solution.

The biggest problem for federations – and not only in cycling – is that they believe they have to promote their sport. Actually, they don’t have to promote their sport, that is not the big priority….first of all, they have to protect their sport.

VN: Finally, you mentioned the Ovcharov case, and said that it was different to Contador’s. Why do you feel it is different?

HS: They did hair testing and they found the same substance in other colleagues of his. That makes it more believable. And then you have to consider that he was in China. The Cologne lab recently published a research on tourists coming back from China. 22 out of 28 came back contaminated with Clenbuterol, so that makes it really, really different. You can see there is a problem in that country, and that is why the cases cannot be compared.

I should clarify that it doesn’t make any difference for me that he is a German table tennis player. Whether he is from Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa or Australia, that doesn’t matter at all for me. It makes no sense that some people say that the Germans don’t criticise the Ovcharaov case but will criticise the Contador case, because of national feelings. That is nonsense. I am not involved in any sports, so this is different.

I would never protect Mr Ovcharov, I just see the facts…and they are different. Contador was not in China, he was in Europe at the time of the positive test. So that makes it very different.

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Read part one of this interview here:

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