Judge rules that Operacion Puerto blood bags can finally be handed over

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Over ten years after 211 blood bags were seized in the Operacion Puerto raids in Madrid, Spain, the truth about their origin finally looks set to be revealed. A judge in the Provincial Court of Madrid has ruled on Tuesday that the blood bags should be handed over to the Spanish cycling federation, WADA, the UCI, the Italian Olympic Committee and others.

There had been real fears that the blood bags would be destroyed, particularly after Spanish courts appeared to have impeded every attempt to determine who the athletes were. Over the past ten years requests to make the bags available for DNA testing was refused and there were also long delays in decisions, complicating things in terms of the final legal deadline for testing.

Some believed that the rumoured involvement of powerful sports such as soccer, basketball, athletics and tennis were the reasons for the lack of movement. However in his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Alejandro Maria Benito ordered that the bags should be finally handed over. This could potentially lead to some big names being identified, but only if they used blood doping.

One long-quoted statistic for the blood bags is that they came from 36 different athletes, of which 23 were cyclists, 12 were athletes and one was undetermined. While the doctor at the centre of Operacion Puerto case, Eufemiano Fuentes, has hinted that he treated big football teams and other sportspeople, his method of doping for those may have been different due to a lack of EPO testing being used at the time.

Efforts to pin him down legally have proved difficult. In his ruling on Tuesday, the judge has acquitted him of crimes against public health. Also cleared were his sister Yolanda Fuentes plus former top cycling team managers Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda.

Fuentes has said more than once that if he gave full details of what he knows, there would be huge repercussions for soccer and other sports.

Thus far cycling has been the sport most affected by the 2006 raids. Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Michele Scarponi and Jörg Jacksche have already been identified and have either served bans or, in the case of Ullrich, never raced again.

The release of the blood bags could mean that other sportspeople could also be on the chopping block. One complication, though, is that the ten year WADA statute of limitations expired last month. It remains to be seen if the agency can make an exception under its rules.

Also see: Operacion Puerto: UCI, WADA to push for identification of athletes

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