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Reflections on Contador’s case

Dick Pound says in his autobiography Inside Dope, that a L’Equipe journalist used to call him the “sheriff from the Wild West”. The reason for this nickname is that Dick Pound thought of himself as the good guy who was in charge of catching the bad guys: the athletes who used enhancing-performance substances.


Dick Pound was WADA’s ideologue as well as its main promoter and first president. He spent his entire career developing a bellicose anti-doping campaign. The actual situation of athletes in contemporary sports or the means used to fight against that “evil” did not matter to him –in fact, he found the idea of undercover criminal investigations “exciting”. The only important thing to him was, as he assured the world in another autobiography, entitled Inside the Olympics; that “the cheaters may run, for a while, but they can no longer hide”.

My concern is that this bellicose and aggressive ideology has been inherited by WADA and the rest of the regulatory bodies that support its anti-doping campaign. Ethical and legal considerations are overridden by the imperative necessity of catching the cheaters. This explains the verdict in the recent Contador case.

There are no rules and there is no compassion within the war against dopers. This is the idea behind the recent sanction against the Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador. It seems to be clear within current law that Contador should be penalised for doping. That does not mean that I consider anti-doping rules to be fair, in fact, I disagree with the anti-doping policies that regulate competitive sports. However, I do not want to make this point here, but will discuss here whether or not under current rules, Alberto Contador should have had a two years’ ban, the most severe penalty possible.

In my opinion the ban was unfair. Unfair not only because there are several precedents of clenbuterol positive tests that were ignored –FIFA ignored around 100 positive tests for clenbuterol during the sub-17 Football World Cup held in Mexico– or that were punished with only a 1 year ban, such as the female swimmer Jessy Hardy, who tested positive for clenbuterol due to an alleged ingestion of vitamin supplements. Given these precedents and the fact that neither the WADA nor the UCI investigations could prove Contador was doping, I wonder what caused the penalty of two years ban. In my opinion, WADA had two major objectives: first of all, to show its power because the London Olympics are less than six months away. Secondly, to justify the necessity of an agency whose raison d’etre is to combat the threat sport faces from doping. In the same way that the contenders in a war show their weapons by military exhibitions, WADA is using Contador’s case to set an example of punishment for the Olympic competitors and to send them a message of what will happen if they also try to outwit the powerful WADA.

It does not matter that there was no conclusive proof against Contador nor that the sanction was based only on probabilities of what was more likely to have happened. As the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) concluded “the athlete´s positive test for clenbuterol is more likely to have been caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement than by a blood transfusion or the ingestion of contaminated meat. This does not mean that the Panel is convinced beyond reasonable doubt that this scenario of ingestion of a contaminated food supplement may actually happened”. The message sent by WADA and CAS, which was established as part of the IOC in 1984, in their fight against cheaters seems to be clear: Athletes who are cheating should start to be worried if the international arbitration body can sanction Contador for two years without a definitive proof.

To conclude, WADA’s and CAS’s aim is to tell the bad guys that they “may run, for a while, but they can no longer hide”. Superstar athletes may run faster because they have the most sophisticated doping techniques, but they will be sooner or later caught as well. We should not forget that through the acceptance of the 2009 WADA Anti-Doping Code all the Olympic Federations recognised the supreme jurisdiction of CAS for anti-doping violations. As John Fahey, the current WADA president, stated during the WADA Media Symposium that was held the day after Contador’s case in Lausanne “in the 1990s it was recognised that doping had become so widespread that it needed an independent body to provide leadership and a global strategy for how best to fight drugs in sport –WADA is that body”.      Contador’s case is the best way to show that the anti-doping campaign and the agencies that are in charge of it should be supported by the sporting community especially with the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner.

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