Did Political Influence And Constitutional Law Get Contador Off The Hook?

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Instead of rushing to a quick opinion yesterday I spent the entire day trying to understand what exactly is going on with the Contador ruling. This is something that carries a huge significance in the world of cycling and I feel that I have the responsibility to do more than scratch the surface. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, these things are not black and white and this is much more complex than meets eye. I’ve spoken with people who are close to the investigation and all roads appear to lead to the same place.

Zapatero and Contador – photo source

The fact that Contador’s one year doping sanction has been lifted is no longer an issue of innocence or guilt. Contador’s exoneration is political. Sports is politics and politics need the glory that sporting successes give.

No new evidence has surfaced since the RFEC’s initial recommendation of a one-year sanction for Contador. We have not seen any additional arguments from Contador’s team that suggests they provided sufficient proof that he unknowingly ingested contaminated meat and could prove the source ( both required to get the 2 year ban lifted). In the absence of that proof, this leads to the most likely conclusion – political pressure.

Last Friday the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero publicly stated on the government’s Twitter page “there’s no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador“, a position supported by Mariano Rajoy, the PP (People’s Party) leader, as well as Angel Juanes, the president of Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish High Court). What Zapatero was referring to in his statement was Spanish constitutional law which gives the defendant the presumption of innocence and he sees no reason to sanction him.

This is in stark contrast to WADA’s code of “strict liability” where the athlete is responsible for what enters his body and the burden of proof is upon him to explain how any banned substance gets there. Note that this isn’t something that WADA just pulled out of thin air because it felt like it. It is a legal definition.

In a very good article by Shane Stokes (Velonation), Juanes was quoted from El Mundo (a Spanish right-wing newspaper):

“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”  “But the problem is that there’s an article that establishes that the athlete is always responsible for what appears in his body.”  “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.”

Angel Juanes, president of Audiencia Nacional – photo source

Is Contador guilty? Well, it depends on which law you abide by. What we’re seeing here is Spain’s political figures getting involved in the case of a fallen sporting hero and are protecting him because of the WADA code in which they don’t agree with.

From Velonation:

According to L’Equipe, one factor which may have led to the RFEC’s Competition Committee dropping the charges against him was what is being termed a procedural defect on the part of the UCI. The French newspaper states that a letter sent by the UCI to the RFEC last November 8th was not sent to the rider or his legal team. L’Equipe said that Contador’s representatives complained that this was not fair, and that it violated a section of the Spanish Constitution regarding the ‘rights of the accused to be informed.’

If this is the legal loophole that’s being used , it appears that the RFEC is putting Spanish constitutional law ahead of the WADA code in order to get Contador off the hook. Political figures (i.e. Zaptero, Juanes, etc) may have exerted pressure on RFEC because they deemed Contador’s sanction to be contrary to his constitutional rights.

Pat McQuaid’s reaction

from AFP

While McQuaid said he had “not specially” been surprised by the decision he had been shocked by politicans becoming involved with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stating last week “there is no legal reason to sanction Contador”.

“Nothing surprises me any more…” said McQuaid.

“On the other hand I’m disappointed by the political pressure in Spain. That doesn’t help with a calm investigation.

“I don’t understand why politicans have to meddle in sport which has its own disciplinary procedures. Having said that I don’t blame the Spanish cycling federation which did its job investigating in a serious manner.”

Pat McQuaid also said in Oman:

“I think it’s disappointing. It’s up to sport to police itself – it should be allowed to. I don’t think it should be interfered with by politicians who don’t know the full facts of cases, making statements, which are purely political statements. I think it’s unwarranted and doesn’t help. It doesn’t help the image of Spain, either. It shows they’re biased towards supporting their own, regardless of what the facts of the case might be.”

What will happen next?

The UCI issued a statement yesterday:

“While acknowledging the differences between the conclusions of the recommendation that had been presented to the rider by the rapporteur of the RFEC Disciplinary Commission and those expressed in the Commission’s decision announced today, the UCI reserves the right to conduct an in-depth study of the reasons behind the decision before expressing its opinion. In accordance with the regulations the UCI now awaits the full dossier on the case from the RFEC. Once this documentation has been received, the UCI will issue its decision within 30 days.”

The WADA code is an international contract that all professional cyclists sign up to. So how can RFEC undermine this contract? Exactly. This is why the UCI and WADA will most likely appeal their ruling with CAS and the hearing could take many months. If they win, then Contador could get handed back a 2 year ban because he’ll have a hard time proving his tainted meat theory. Contador may then appeal to a European court. If you think Valverde’s case took a long time to reach a decision while he raced, it’s nothing compared to what this could be. It’s about to get very interesting.

By the way, can you see any difference between Landis’ and Contodor’s circumstances besides the fact that Contador claims to have ate tainted meat? I can’t…

::Update: I just uploaded the ASOPROVAC (Spanish Association of Beef Producers) press statement. I’ve put it through google translate and I can’t guarantee it’s accuracy. It’s basically stating their rebuttal against Contador’s tainted beef claim which is harming their reputation and industry. Download the pdf of ASOPROVAC’s press statement here.

This paper presents numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods, as in the same Alberto Contador says that “in Spain each year occur arrests owners for illegally fatten cattle with clenbuterol” absolutely false if one considers that the various controls on field which hold annual public authorities have been negative and that the annual data yields the National Research Program Waste (PNIR) in animals and animal products, carried out by our government to show conclusively that the 14,179 total analysis made last year in cattle has not existed in our country NOT ONE positive case of clenbuterol.

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