On Doping in Sports: The Contador Ruling

The Court of Arbitration’s recent ruling on Alberto Contador’s doping case has made sports headlines.  The CAS found Contador guilty of ingesting clenbuterol and imposed a (retroactive) 2-year ban and a fine of some $2.3 million on Contador, the top cyclist of his generation.

While the specifics of the case are too complicated and lengthy to detail here (for those interested in a more detailed, relatively neutral take on the specifics, here is a link for your perusal — from my reading experience, the aforementioned link is straightforward, unbiased take that ultimately sides with the CAS’ decision).

Here are a few things that stand out about the case:

- The extremely lengthy amount of time it took for the UCI/WADA to reach a decision.  It was beyond normal.  During the year and a half it took for the decision to be made, Contador was allowed to race the 2011 TdF, and he won the 2011 Giro during the period.  Contador is now stripped of 2 major titles, the 2010 Tour de France and the 2011 Giro de Italia.

- The “strict liability,” or “zero tolerance” rule, was invoked for Contador’s ruling.   The prevailing theory had been that Contador had taken an illegal blood transfusion that contained the banned drug, clenbuterol.  In the end, the official ruling found no evidence of an illegal blood transfusion.  The only thing they could ascertain was the presence of clenbuterol (a fact which Contador did not dispute).  The CAS did not agree with Contador’s defense, that the clenbuterol had entered his body via tainted meat he had consumed during the 2010 TdF.  In the end, they ruled that Contador had taken a contaminated food supplement.  This ruling is interesting because they do not accuse Contador of doping.  Rather, they invoke the “strict liability” clause and accuse him of ingesting a forbidden substance.  It’s much like tennis player Robert Kendrick’s case, when Kendrick mistook a sleeping pill that contained a forbidden substance.

In conclusion, regardless of your biases about Contador or Spanish cyclists, the fact is that this case is hardly black and white.  Given Lance Armstrong (who actually had far more serious doping accusations raised against him) recently had all charges dropped against him by the US Federal government, the 2-year ban for Contador seems overly harsh.  While I agree WADA needs to uphold the letter of the anti-doping code, I can’t help but feel the Contador ruling was far too harsh.  Mind you, this is just my personal opinion.

All of that aside, what’s clear is that the Contador case was not efficiently run.  In that sense, the messages of solidarity that Spanish tennis players Carlos Moya and Rafael Nadal reflect the uncertainties involved in his case.  Even Andy Schleck, the cyclist who in light of Contador’s ruling has been declared the 2010 winner of the Tour de France, objected to the ruling and proclaimed he would never consider himself a true TdF winner until he won the race on the road.  Schleck declares he thought Contador was innocent (for those unfamiliar with Andy Schleck, think of him as cycling’s Andy Murray — prior to Feb. 6, he’d been a 3-time runner up at the Tour de France and many had questioned his ability to ever score a major win.  Many still question his ability to win a major in the “rightful” fashion).

Then, a French television station recently ran a slanderous ad featuring an impersonation of Rafael Nadal.

It was a tasteless ad from French station Canal + that all but directly paints Nadal as a doper.  This is in line with the broad stereotypes that exist against Spanish athletes.  At best, it was tactless.  At worst, it was media-condoned slander.  The ad doesn’t even try to further the cause for anti-doping.  Rather, it levies a personal attack on Nadal as a Spanish athlete.

Now, I object to doping standards in tennis.  Given the increasingly endurance-based nature of the sport, I don’t think the number of EPO tests administered to tennis players approaches anything near adequate.  Despite the fashionable complaints from players about the whereabouts system and out-of-competition testing, the fact remains that cyclists are on average tested twice as often as tennis players.  Yet it’s rare that you hear a prominent cyclist complain about the doping regime (because they’re raised in a hard culture that knows better than to complain about doping tests).  I personally think tennis needs to get on board with stricter testing if they want to ward off future suspicion.

That said, I do not in any way support the baseless levying of accusations against tennis players.  If critics want to attack anything, attack the standards for anti-doping in tennis.  Don’t use doping as an excuse to senselessly accuse random tennis players.  That’s hardly the way to raise a credible argument for the anti-doping cause.

Readers may be reminded of Yannick Noah’s recent comments about Spanish athletes and doping.  This case only invokes the national prejudices inherent in these accusations, which take us one step away from furthering the actual anti-doping cause.  Also, Noah would probably be interested to know that Contador’s lawyer for his case was the same lawyer that Richard Gasquet used in 2010 for his defense of cocaine ingestion.  In light of this ruling, France should be thankful for the light sentencing that Gasquet received.

In any case, I think a broad discussion on doping standards in tennis is called for and necessary.  If civilized debate can be had without pointing fingers at players, that would be the best way to move forward with new ideas for advanced testing.

About mariposaxprs

I play favorites with Juan Martin Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and the long line of mercurial talent that drives me to despair in front of the screen at odd hours during the week.
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7 Responses to On Doping in Sports: The Contador Ruling

  1. Yeah, as I said on QR’s blog, if a person has an allegation against a player, they should provide evidence to back it up. If they don’t have any evidence, they should keep their mouths shut until they provide it.

    Oh, it sounds like you know a lot about the doping controls and their weaknesses. What do you think they should do? I don’t know anything about their doping tests.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Haha I don’t know as much as some cycling fans do about doping controls but just from following the sport, I get the impression tennis really does have weaker controls. I think they need to increase the number of tests they perform on all players, along with the type of testing they do (more blood samples, instead of just the urine samples that are mostly taken).

      It’s sad b/c this is such a contentious issue in sports, which involves competing fandoms. People are often too willing to imply that a certain player they’re not fond of is a doper — while it’s one thing to do that if there’s evidence or supporting material, it’s truly baffling when it’s done with no supporting evidence for the claims!

  2. queridorafa says:

    Thanks for this post! It brings a lot of clarity to the issues. Given it took over a year to decide the case, the 2-year-ban seems truly excessive. I’m not sure what is going on at Canal+–I believe they showed their third video in the same Rafa/Spanish athlete-bashing vein today? It’s just bizarre at this point.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Seriously, Canal+ really are out-doing themselves! I guess they’re known for that kind of “off-base humor.” Apparently, they did a sketch in the past where they accused Amelie Mauresmo of a similar thing. It really is bizarre. I guess Benito’s been hard at work this week trying to keep people in line!

  3. Iram says:

    I think Contador should have been more honest in the beginning. There’s no need to hide anything suspicious about oneself if that person in constantly in the limelight. I mean he’s an adult, he should have known what’ll get him in trouble. I hope he can use these next couple of years to re-focus on his career…and if eventually wants to come back to the sport, he needs to find a way to become stronger. Then he can prove to everyone he is successful.

    I think athletes will always be subjected to the suspicion of doping. It comes with their lifestyle. Last year so many people were wondering if it was drugs that led to Nole’s success. He said a gluten-free diet really had a big impact on his game. There are tons on people who always question Rafa- I guess it’s his arm which is so pumped! btw, that video isn’t playable. Can u upload another one?

    Wasn’t there a story about Serena a short time ago about drug testing? I heard a “doping-tester” had entered her house (without warning in advance) and she called the cops on that person.

    I wish we didn’t have to ever read or hear about athletes and supposedly links to them doping. I think like the majority, I just want to enjoy a sport where there is honesty and good game play.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Yea, that’s a good point you make, about the defense that Contador used for his case. Some people question whether the “tainted meat” defense was true or whether there was a more complicated story behind it. Only he knows what happened. It’s tough to speculate, given how much doping there is in cycling. Honestly, I think the 2-yr ban was too harsh for him though. The governing sports bodies couldn’t prove any intention on his part to dope and they found nothing indicating as much. In any case, hopefully he will make his return to the sport later this yr.

      It’s true that there’s so much doping talk surrounding athletes these days too. I wish tennis would upgrade its doping regimen, in order to shoot down the suspicions that the greater public has about doping in tennis. That way, they would not have as much fuel for baseless accusations.

      It’s true what happened with Serena. Looking back, it was a minor incident and it was a great relief that it wasn’t an intruder, just the doping patrol, that showed up at her house! I agree with you totally, that the talk about doping casts a shadow over sports. Even as a fan, I don’t like having to read news items about doping in sports. It ruins the fun…

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Btw, I found a new link for the video (I’m not sure if it will still be available for a long time, given the copyright issues, but it’s worked for me so far!)

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