Although the ten year WADA statute of limitations expired last month, the UCI and the World Anti Doping Agency have both pledged to do what they can to move forward with the identification of the athletes involved in the Operacion Puerto doping affair.
Earlier on Thursday a judge in the Provincial Court of Madrid ruled that 211 blood bags originally seized in raids in May 2006 should be released, reversing an April 2013 decision by a different judge that they should be destroyed.
The Judge Alejandro Maria Benito explained his reasoning in a court statement.
“Attention to the aim pursued is to fight against doping, which undermines the essential ethical value of sport, which is fair play to prevent competition on equal terms.
According to the Inside The Games website, the court also said that a different judgement would have created “the danger that other athletes may be tempted to take drugs and a negative social message is issued to the effect that the end justifies any means.”
The Court’s ruling cannot be appealed.
UCI president Brian Cookson hailed the ruling. “The UCI applauds this decision. Although it is regrettable that we had to wait this long, in the end the message sent is clear.”
The governing body laid out what it will do next. “The UCI will now partner with WADA, the RFEC [the Spanish Cycling Federation], Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de la Salud en el Deporte (AEPSAD, the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency) and CONI, to determine the legal options available with regards to analysing the blood and plasma bags; and, where applicable, pursuing anti-doping rule violations.”
WADA Director General David Homan echoed this. “WADA acknowledges the Madrid Court of Appeal for having reached the decision to provide anti-doping authorities with this crucial evidence,” he said. “We are dismayed that it took so long to receive the decision but we will now partner with the other parties that have been granted access [to the blood bags], to determine our legal options vis-à-vis analysing the blood and plasma bags.”
Although the statute of limitations has expired, Inside The Games said that lawyers believe that under the principle of force majeure, the cases may be allowed to go ahead.
Following the ruling AEPSAD director Enrique Gomez Bastida met the president of the Superior Council of Sports, Miguel Cardenal and expressed satisfaction with the outcome. He said that the AEPSAD would consider the possible next steps.
On May 23 2006 raids were carried out in Madrid and elsewhere and vast quantities of doping products and hundreds of blood bags were seized. The doctor at the centre of the doping ring, Eufemiano Fuentes was amongst those arrested, as was the directeur sportif of the Liberty Seguros–Würth team, Manolo Saiz.
Sportspeople from cycling, soccer, basketball, tennis and athletics were rumoured to be involved. Of those, cycling was the only sport to make a concerted effort to name and punish the athletes, with the then-UCI president Pat McQuaid stating that it was a major goal of his to uncover the full story.
Riders such as Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Michele Scarponi and Jörg Jacksche were identified. All bar Ullrich served bans, with the German retiring.
However other riders remain to be identified, as do those from other sports.
Tuesday’s ruling moves that a step closer and is a welcome, if long overdue, decision.