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No surprise as UCI lodges CAS appeal in Contador case

The UCI, cycling’s governing body, today announced its intention to appeal the decision by the Spanish national federation RFEC not to sanction Alberto Contador. The three-time Tour de France champion had given a trace-positive sample for the banned drug clenbuterol in the process of winning last year’s race, and has not subsequently provided any substantive evidence to support his claim that he inadvertently ate some contaminated steak.

UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told Cyclingnews the governing body was not convinced Contador had proved his case sufficiently, and that it needed to be referred to the highest independent authority, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne to reach a final decision. He said:

Our main goal is not to prove that Contador is guilty. We don’t want the head of Contador. We want to get to a point where we can be sure and we can give you the guarantee that we did everything we could in order to get the best decision.

We know that his appeal will once more be painful for cycling. For months longer, we might have more Contador stories.

Contador is free to race until the CAS decision. We have to wait until the decision of CAS and it will depend on their verdict.

Why an appeal was inevitable

In reality, the UCI was never going to allow RFEC’s ruling to stand uncontested. The Spanish federation’s decision not to press for a ban – having indicated only a few days previously its intention to apply a one-year sanction – was seen by many as favouritism and bowing to considerable public pressure from senior political and legal figures, including Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. And RFEC’s acceptance of Contador’s contaminated beef defence without the support of any tangible evidence flies in the face of the UCI’s ‘strict liability’ principle which effectively means a rider is guilty until proven innocent after a positive test.

As such, the UCI could not allow such a dangerous precedent to be set. Without its strict liability rule, there is a danger that any future doping bans could only be enforced if evidence of deliberate doping can be found – syringes, containers and medical records, for instance – which would effectively neuter the entire anti-doping system overnight.

What happens now?

First and foremost, RFEC’s decision not to ban Contador means he retains his 2010 Tour victory for now. He is also able to continue competing until the appeal is concluded. As to when the case will be resolved, it is possible that it could be finished by the end of June – crucially, before the start of the Tour de France – but due process allows for potential delays to extend this into July.

This is covered in greater detail by Velonation, but the bare bones are as follows. The UCI would file its appeal submission by April 4th, with Contador’s team filing a written answer to the appeal towards the end of the month. A hearing would then take place at the end of May, with CAS’s final decision being announced towards the end of June.

However, CAS Secretary General Matthieu Reeb has previously pointed out that a number of factors could delay the final outcome. Either party is at liberty to request extensions for the filing of their submissions (or for a second exchange of submissions), or for additional evidence (e.g. expert testimony) to be gathered.

So late June is most likely to be the earliest possible conclusion to the appeal. And the worst case scenario of a decision being delayed until after the Tour starts is far from unlikely. It will probably not come to it, as I suspect Contador will race in the Giro and Vuelta this year and skip the Tour, but can you imagine the unholy mess that would occur should Contador start this year’s Tour, only to be banned in mid-race?

What are the possible outcomes?

There are various shades of grey in between, but there are essentially three possible outcomes now, two of which would leave the UCI’s integrity intact, while the other could have far-reaching implications across all sports.

1. CAS overturns RFEC’s decision and implements a (back-dated) ban on Contador of either one or two years. The rider would forfeit the results and earnings from any races he had competed in, probably dating back to his initial provisional suspension in September.

2. CAS upholds RFEC’s decision not to ban Contador on the basis of his defence. This would presumably require new supporting evidence to be brought forward, as he appears to have produced none so far. This would not be a terrible decision for the sport, as it would leave the UCI’s strict liability principle intact. An independently-rendered decision untainted by accusations of nationalistic self-interest would also be good for Contador’s credibility with fans and sponsors.

3. CAS upholds RFEC’s decision not to ban Contador on the basis that his defence is plausible but unproven. This would effectively render the strict liability rule null and void, and set an extremely dangerous precedent both in cycling and other sports. For instance, it would be more difficult to prosecute a ban solely on the basis of a failure to attend a doping control. (Personally, I can’t see this option happening.)

There is also the possibility that the UCI itself may come under scrutiny from CAS for its handling of the case. In particular, it could be easily embarrassed if pressed to explain why it seemed to delay the initial announcement of Contador’s positive result for several weeks until the point when the media were just about to go public with it.

Whatever happens, it is going to be an interesting – and potentially pivotal – few weeks in both the career of Alberto Contador and the ongoing anti-doping crusade. Watch this space.

My previous posts on the ‘Conta-dope’ scandal

Conta-dope suspension adds another chapter to Tour’s tale of woe

Is Contador’s doping suspension much ado about (almost) nothing?

Experts suggest Contador’s ‘contaminated beef’ defence may be a load of bull

Whatever the truth, mud will stick to Contador and the UCI

The beginning of the end for Contador?

Contador’s one-year ban just the start of a long, winding road

Contador makes aggressive first move in response to proposed ban

Is Contador about to be cleared? Show me the evidence, please

Contador a free man, but at what cost?

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

7 Responses to No surprise as UCI lodges CAS appeal in Contador case

  1. kittyfondue says:

    Great post, Tim. They absolutely had to appeal to the decision – I just hope they come to a decision fast. No one wants a replay of the Valverde farce.

    • Tim says:

      I fear the UCI may end up with egg on its face over the way it handled the early part of this affair, but hey ho. As you say, they really had no option.

      Although CAS won’t allow delays which they deem to be time-wasting, as with any legal process there are many ways the decision could end up being delayed. And with the high profile of this case they will be keen to ensure they allow due process to run its course so they can reach a fair decision. Better late than wrong – and while CAS won’t drag their feet, any overlap with the start of the Tour is the UCI’s problem, really, not CAS’s, and won’t be allowed to stand in the way of getting to an objective result.

      Of course, if the UCI had announced Contador’s provisional suspension at the earliest opportunity last summer rather than allowing it to fester for weeks, we would be at least a month further advanced in the process. So the mess is at least partly of their own making.

      The upshot of RFEC’s about-face ultimately is that the burden of proof is now more on the UCI’s shoulders, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some kind of compromise was reached.

  2. Sheree says:

    Interesting half-page article in today’s l’Equipe on this subject. The UCI’s lawyers had recommended that the UCI not appeal the case as, based on the evidence, they believed TAS would uphold the Spanish Federation’s decision. Nonetheless, McQuaid has decided to pursue the appeal for political reasons. He wants to prove his determination to leave no stone unturned in the fight against doping.

    TAS are unhappy that the UCI left it until the last moment to launch their appeal, thereby wasting a further couple of weeks. They believe that the earliest a decision might be reached is 25 July, just prior to the end of the Tour. As a consequence, I suspect that you’re correct Tim, Alberto will ride the Giro, but sit out the Tour so as not to further embarass ASO, in the event the decision is overturned by TAS. If it isn’t, he’s free to ride the Vuelta.

    • Tim says:

      I’m surprised the UCI’s lawyers were so pessimistic. I wonder what has caused them to think that?

      I think McQuaid’s position is the right one, even though they will be left with a big legal bill no matter what. The principle of strict liability is at stake, so I don’t see how the RFEC ruling can go unchallenged. Even if Contador is let off, if CAS upholds the principle it will have been a price worth paying. But I do think the UCI needs to review its rules to minimise the risk of accidental positives and the inevitable disputes which will arise from trace positives. I know that means some wrongdoers may slip the net, but there is a balance that needs to be found between being tough and being too draconian with rules which may not hold water in court.

      It’s certainly not a black and white affair. If it was easy to police doping, more sports would already be doing a better job of it without the constant need to seemingly refer everything to CAS.

      Mumble, grumble, At least there’s Ghent-Wevelgem to take our minds off it this weekend.

  3. Sheree says:

    Absolutely and let’s not forget there’s also the Criterium International, E3 Prijs, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and the UCI World Track Championships.

    • Tim says:

      You know, I’ve seen barely ten minutes of the World Tracks so far. Today has been manic. I’ve just caught the highlights of the Criterium International (great ride by Frank Schleck) and that’s it cycling-wise, having had one eye on the cricket, football, F1 and the Boat Race for the rest of the day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll manage a bit of Gent-Wevgelem, but it’s been a simply manic weekend of sport – and that’s without any Premier League games!

  4. Pingback: WADA joins UCI in two-pronged attack against Contador « The armchair sports fan

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