Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spain Makes A Mockery of the Anti-Doping Process

The Spanish Sport [Cycling] Federation (RFEC) makes a mockery of the anti-doping quest to rid sport of doping products and methods to increase performance; and thus conveys an unfair advantage to Spanish cyclists. Alberto Contador was recently absolved of all responsibility for testing positive for clenbuterol, a synthetic steroid, during the 2010 Tour de France, because the RFEC claimed that intent could not be reasonably ascertained. Rekindles memories of the WADA phrase "comfortable satisfaction."

Sounds familiar and all too predictable for the Spanish.

Alejandro Valverde was positively linked to Operation Puerto by a perfect DNA match of blood bag 18 found in the office of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes when the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) tested Alejandro Valverde during the 2008 Tour de France. Yet, in spite of this perfect DNA match, the RFEC refused to suspend Alejandro Valverde, allowed Alejandro Valverde to continue to race for two additional years, and win the Vuelta d' Espana!

Of course, the UCI and WADA were forced to act, after interminable delay and pressure from CONI, to file an appeal of the RFEC inaction to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), which resulted in a two year suspension for Alejandro Valverde for his ties to Operation Puerto.

Until very recently, in Spain, no law existed to punish dopers in athletic competitions. Alberto Contador was cleared of his involvement in Operation Puerto, because of this loophole.

Manolo Saiz, when director sportif for Liberty Seguros, ran an organized doping program with ties to Operation Puerto. Saiz was arrested by the Spanish Civil Guard. Alberto Contador was a member of the 2004 Liberty Seguros team, but was never implicated in this affair.

The UCI provisional suspension of Alberto Contador is no longer in effect. Unless WADA and the UCI file an appeal of the Spanish decision to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), Alberto Contador will be allowed to retain his 2010 Tour de France title and prize money and he will continue to race.

Allowing a man who tested positive for a performance enhancing drug during a Grand Tour "walk" sets an incredibly bad precedent. The UCI and WADA have no option but to appeal.

Spain regards cyclists as favorite sons who are incapable of error: even in the face of conclusive proof: thus making a mockery of the entire anti-doping effort to ensure "fair play." Although it would be very difficult to change Spanish culture with regards to their heroes, there still remains hope that they will understand the severity of the doping problem and modify their attitudes toward combating misuse and abuse in sport; and act accordingly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take That WADA! Alberto Contador Exonerated!

How now John Fahey, Pat McQuaid? The Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) has just smashed the WADA code into oblivion: now you have no option but to appeal this insanity! The moniker of "strict liability" will vanish like a mirage if the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) does not salvage your sorry system! To allow Alberto Contador to race; without any punishment; after a positive test for a prohibited substance detected during a Grand Tour: Horrors! Athletes in every country everywhere will fabricate similar excuses and escape from the WADA gauntlet, um sonst!

UCI President Pat McQuaid has a big problem too. To appeal or not to appeal: that is the question. If the UCI does not appeal will the peloton turn into a shooting gallery where the most innovative methods in illegal performance enhancement prevail?

Yes, the Spanish love their man and they could not force themselves to find him guilty in spite of the evidence, much like the O.J. Simpson jury.

Remember the 2006 WADA executive meeting lamenting the fact that "wealthy" athletes spend inordinate amounts of money challenging "convincing laboratory results?" What an outdated notion! Now athletes spend nothing and win cases loaded with "convincing laboratory results!" Clenbuterol increases performance: clenbuterol was present in Alberto Contador's urine: clenbuterol is on the WADA prohibited list: these are convincing proofs! If WADA was less arrogant: invested more time and money into science and research: the plastic metabolites found in Alberto Contador's urine would have been convincing, not hypothetical bunk and speculation!

Indeed, my head spins over this decision. Compared to the brutal, draconian, treatment of past athletes; this is impossible to believe! The UCI must not allow this decision to stand or there will be an endless number of "contaminated food" arguments; and exoneration!

There is absolutely no reason to argue that doping in cycling is ongoing among a majority of riders. There is no reason to suppose that the total prevalence of doping within the peloton will ever reach more than one percent. But this decision by the RFEC will act as temptation; because riders will reason that the anti-doping establishment has loosened the reigns of vigilance and will allow provable violations to go unpunished if the excuses are imaginative enough.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alberto Contador Strikes Back

Alberto Contador is an amazing man. First, he claims that the anti-doping science is inadequate to catch cheaters using new sophisticated methodology, then he complains that his Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) is capitulating to pressure from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI): who refuse to accept his tainted meat argument as the source of his positive test for clenbuterol during the second rest day of the 2010 Tour de France. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero goes even farther by claiming that "there is no legal reason to sanction Contador."

But sanctioned Alberto Contador certainly will be, for one year, by the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC): a trifling punishment: suggesting a lack of intent. There is a fundamental disagreement among experts as to the source of the clenbuterol, contaminated meat being most unlikely, blood transfusion most likely, no test to verify either with absolute certainty. WADA lives in a fantasy land, claiming that the tests they do have will detect anything. Seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong would dispute that claim and stands as a perfect example of WADA lies, stupidity, and arrogance: if he doped? Nothing was detected in the USPS cycling team medical waste dug out of a dumpster by a French television station during a past Tour de France and examined by a laboratory, except actovegin, which combined with a rich infusion of platelets at the sight of injury may speed recovery. May speed recovery, an outrageous claim, thousands of dollars are charged by quack doctors who may be providing nothing more than an expensive placebo. Thus the problem, even though traces of actovegin were found among the medical waste; was actovegin a part of the WADA prohibited list at the time? Does actovegin have any medical efficacy? Do we draw the same sort of conclusions that WADA does that the mere presence of a substance regardless of medical efficacy: the ability to increase performance or the ability to increase recovery: constitute mens rea, intent and criminal responsibility? The French probe into the USPS cycling team alleged doping activity generated a large case file, adorned with a photo of Lance Armstrong cycling down the Champs Elysees: with a second photo superimposed of a syringe inserted into his posterior. If this is the result of a three year expensive French investigation into the doping activity of the USPS cycling team, the US Federal government may have to explain away the costs of their Salem like witch hunt without results! The President of the United States of America would have a difficult time proclaiming that there "is no legal bases to sanction Lance Armstrong."

The circle the wagon WADA mentality of defense when questioned by doping experts as to the state of the testing: how could you let a man win seven consecutive Tour de France races against known dopers without a positive test? How could a man associated with Operation Puerto and allied with a team with a known record of doping offenses, Astana: Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for a double cell population after a Tour de France rest day, Alexander Vinokourov injured early in the Tour de France after a collision with a motorcycle, miraculously wins a demanding time trial, without a prohibited technique? Yet, people of teams with notorious reputations, riders with checkered pasts are never red flagged as potential offenders and are allowed to compete and win without discomfort: Phonak! Except for Lance Armstrong, who had the most extensive testing and UCI biological passport data compiled in the history of cycling: during the comeback: yet, LNDD could find no anomalies? How can anyone disagree with Alberto Contador about the disgraceful, deplorable state of the anti-doping crusade?

Will the Spanish release the Alberto Contador case file for public inspection, or will we be held in ignorance about their reasoning until the appeal by the UCI? Is Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero privy to inside information, was he sent a copy of the case file? We are endlessly cautioned not to make inferences without being presented the facts, a posteriori.

Fine, patience is a virtue, there has been an inordinate amount of delay in this case already, but the vital signs would be intriguing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reform The WADA Code

Alberto Contador wants to go down swinging. He insists that he is a victim of an unfair anti-doping crusade that insists upon "strict liability." Alberto Contador argues that the minuscule amounts of clenbuterol found in his system did not enhance his performance and should be discounted as an anomaly. Alberto Contador claims to have ingested tainted meat contaminated with clenbuterol; a one year suspension is an outrageous affront to his dignity. He hopes that the Spanish Cycling Federation will change their minds and allow him to keep his 2010 Tour de France title and Saxo Bank contract. You have to feel sorry for the guy.

The arguments used by disgraced cyclists are legion: Floyd Landis argued that the synthetic testosterone measured in his urine samples had little or no performance enhancing qualities, yet he was suspended for two and a half years and was forced by Pierre Bordry to sign a seperate agreement not to race in France while his case was pending. Alberto Contador, in comparison, is being treated humanely with dignity, not as a possessed satanic fiend from hell, like poor Floyd Landis was. Perhaps the anti-doping crusade has become immured, desynthesized to inflicting mental and physical abuse on athletes with these expensive long drawn out legal battles and outrageous suspensions...?

No. Indeed. Alberto Contador can argue till doomsday that the testing science and methods are pre-historic, barbaric monstrosities of a bygone era, but if they were improved? Alas, be careful what you wish for, Alberto Contador, for if the testing were improved the plastics found in your urine would have provided supplemental evidence of your guilt! Very difficult to explain away plastic residues; they are not encoded into one's DNA and reflected in one's physiology. You cannot simply provide a receipt from a doctor, like you can a butcher!

Sorry. For all the shouts for reform nothing happens. For all the calls for "independent oversight," away from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) umbrella, nothing happens. The UCI refuses to wean cycling from WADA. "Conflicts of interest" favor prosecutions. Outcomes are more important than serious considerations of scientific evidence. The anti-doping crusade must enhance it's monetary existence by foul means. The Court of Arbitration of Sport needs to be abolished. The WADA code scrapped!

Because, my friends, no matter your opinion of the Alberto Contador case and aftermath, innocent athletes have been demeaned by the current system and this system needs reform. One year suspensions for athletes who make simple mistakes with no intent to increase performance, or cheat, is outrageous! It would be simpler to disallow an athlete for a competition: or as is done in cycling, prohibition from competition for a fixed period of time "for health reasons."

Yes, Alberto Contador has it all wrong, the science and methods of testing are adequate, not perfect, could be improved, true, but adequate. The punishment extracted by the UCI is Byzantine and bizarre, antiquated, worthless, and nonsensical. Athletes are human beings and are fallible. They should be treated in context, not universally stereotyped as dopers and cheaters. Common sense needs to happen now!

But would such sensible change open the door for dopers intent on cheating the system and create more problems than it solves? No. A simple change would not lull the anti-doping crusade into somnolence, the vigilance will not diminish, there is nothing to fear, but maybe very much to gain.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Independent Oversight of the Anti-Doping Process?

ESPN writer Bonnie Ford writes an excellent summary of the "conflict of interest" that exists in the anti-doping establishment as it pertains to results management by nationality; Spain gives Alberto Contador a light suspension of one year. Alberto Contador claims this means that his federation agreed with his lack of intent to dope argument. But the Spanish would prefer to let Alberto Contador race with no punishment at all, because unlike America, the Spanish value their Tour de France champions, and unlike America, don't see any value in protracted witch hunts.

Ah! A standardized system of judicial review of doping cases by an international committee "independent" of the athlete's country of origin. Bonnie Ford has an excellent idea and this should be implemented immediately. However, this original concept should be expanded to include an "independent" body that would oversee all testing and accreditation of World Anti-Doping laboratories, results management, anti-doping review boards (ADRB). All Adverse Analytical Findings (AAF) should be reviewed by an "independent" committee before being filed; much like an indictment, which is filed after a determination from a grand jury examination of prosecution evidence and witnesses.

The problem, very simply stated, lies in the anti-doping organizations monopoly of the process and the attempt to maintain perfect conviction records. Employees of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) are precluded from offering any testimony that would question the methodology or testing results of the laboratories, even though they note egregious errors and violations of International Standards.

"Independent" observation of the confirmation "B" tests that included an unbiased group of experts in mass spectrometry, in addition, to the athlete's representative, would add not only invaluable information as to the veracity of the testing but would prevent problems encountered in the past. In the Floyd Landis case, a defense expert complained that parts of the confirmation test was done outside of his vision. In addition, an "independent" group could mediate the defense requests for "crucial" information that the prosecution must provide to the defense in the discovery process. Despite repeated requests for documents pertaining to the French WADA accredited laboratory LNDD, Allen Lim and the Floyd Landis defense were "stonewalled" and denied access to documents by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), for one entire year, until the AAA arbitration panel ordered USADA to comply. This unconscionable "stonewalling" by Travis T. Tygart is unacceptable practice, motivated for advantage in an adversarial system, and costly for the defendant. "Stonewalling" defense requests for information should be illegal and punished to the full extent of the law!

Christiane Ayotte

WADA would miss a perfect opportunity for prosecution perfection if they do not choose Christiane Ayotte to lead the certain Alberto Contador appeal of his one year suspension to the Court of Arbitration of Sport. (CAS) Indeed, let the maestro conduct the orchestra, and no evil will prevail. Ms. Ayotte certainly does not buy the Alberto Contador tainted steak argument, her comments on the subject border on hilarity: "You'll never find a ton of clenbuterol [in an athlete's urine sample] because the doses are really small. Most of the samples are below one nanogram [a billionth of a gram]". (Bonnie Ford, 2011) Ms. Ayotte claims that the Montreal WADA accredited laboratory that she directs has tested over 20,000 clenbuterol samples. There seems to be a very large incidence and prevalence among cyclists of clenbuterol use and detection, according to Ms. Ayotte: "Is there a genetic predisposition to eat more contaminated meat in these [cycling] sports?" (Bonnie Ford, 2011) Excellent! The maestro cannot be played by preposterous fables! John Fahey and WADA this is your moment to sparkle in the Sun! This is the moment for Ms. Ayotte to become a legend! Strike while the iron is hot! Put her in charge of the Alberto Contador appeal!

And let Floyd Landis race again! Enough is enough!