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WADA joins UCI in two-pronged attack against Contador

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) wasted little time in lodging its own appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the Spanish cycling federation’s (RFEC) decision not to impose a ban on Alberto Contador for his positive clenbuterol test at last July’s Tour de France. After the UCI, cycling’s governing body, had registered its own appeal last week, WADA required only five of the permitted 21 days to make its own appeal to CAS on Tuesday.

The speed with which WADA lodged its case improves the chances of a CAS hearing being completed before the start of the 2011 Tour de France on July 2nd. As it currently stands following RFEC’s decision, Contador would be free to race in France as the defending champion – although if CAS rules against him before then he would be unable to enter and would be stripped of his 2010 title. He has already stated his intention to compete in next month’s Giro d’Italia, which is still permitted in spite of the appeals.

A statement issued by WADA stated:

The World Anti-Doping Agency has filed today a declaration to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne against the Spanish Cycling Federation’s decision in the case of Alberto Contador.

Mr Contador was acquitted following a positive test for clenbuterol during an in-competition test carried out on July 21, 2010.

Following its policy, WADA will refrain from commenting further in order to protect the integrity of the process.

CAS subsequently issued the following release:

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has today officially registered the appeal of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against the decision of the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) concerning the case of Alberto Contador. A copy of the appeal has been sent to Counsel for the RFEC and for Mr Contador.

On 25 March 2011, the CAS registered the appeal filed by the International Cycling Union (UCI) against the same decision. Pursuant to the CAS rules, it is possible to consolidate the two cases, if all parties agree.

The parties will now have the opportunity to file written submissions including all their arguments and evidence. The CAS Secretary General has informed the parties that the CAS would be ready to establish a procedural calendar allowing for the settlement of the dispute before the end of June 2011.

What happens now?

At the very least, WADA’s inclusion in the process will supplement the UCI’s resources in pursuing their case. Contador has already established a strong legal team of his own to argue his defence.

CAS has indicated that WADA and the UCI can choose to consolidate their cases – as they did in taking action against Alejandro Valverde – if they desire. This would have the benefit of streamlining the process and improve the odds of a quick decision, but the two bodies may well choose to keep their appeals separate in order to take a two-pronged approach which allows them to pursue different legal arguments.

Broadly speaking, their main options appear to be as follows:

1. Appeal against the validity of RFEC’s decision. This could take the form of an examination of whether the Spanish federation correctly applied the UCI’s ‘strict liability’ policy. They could also point to undue political influence. If the UCI were to accept that any ingestion could have been accidental and focus instead on procedural errors, it could result in a reduced ban of perhaps one year, backdated to the initial suspension last September. This would be the easier route for UCI/WADA to achieve a successful and rapid prosecution.

2, Disprove (or at least sufficiently discredit) Contador’s defence by demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that Contador’s contaminated meat explanation lacks credibility. If successful, this would be more likely to result in the application of a two-year ban, but it is a higher risk strategy because it places the burden of proof on UCI/WADA. It is also more likely to result in a drawn-out process as one or both sides request additional time to gather further evidence or expert testimony.

My personal view? The UCI should concentrate on RFEC’s abuse of process, which is effectively an internal cycling matter, leaving WADA to focus on looking at the wider issue of disproving the accidental contamination defence.

Will Spanish politicians keep their mouths shut?

In a word: no. It is widely thought that RFEC’s decision not to sanction Contador – after they had initially recommended a one-year ban – was widely influenced by pressure from senior political and legal figures, including Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

And although CAS is an independent body, that has not stopped Spanish Sports Minister Jaime Lissavetzky from commenting on the case. He said of the UCI’s appeal:

The argument seems a little shaky.

Not half as shaky as an unsubstantiated opinion from an inexpert politician, one suspects – particularly given that Contador’s entire defence rests on a wholly unsubstantiated hypothesis.

When will we know CAS’s final verdict?

In an ideal world, CAS would now be able to convene a hearing and render its decision by the end of June, as stated. However, the wording of their statement clearly indicates that, although it is willing to do so, CAS is not necessarily in full control of the timeline. CAS secretary-general Matthieu Reeb has reiterated his previous guidance that it would certainly be possible to expedite any appeal before the start of the Tour, but that this timeline could easily drag on beyond that for a variety of valid legal reasons:

The calendar with an end in June would be possible under the normal rules but it is tight. We could shorten the time limits but only with the agreement of the parties.

A final verdict could easily be delayed until July or even early August, allowing Contador to start the Tour if he so desires.

Personally, I think it is unlikely he will race in France this year, no matter what happens. If cleared, he will probably attempt his home race, the Vuelta a España, in addition to the Giro.

If CAS rules against Contador, however, he could face a ban of up to two years, disqualification of race results and a hefty financial penalty – not to mention the impact it might have on his future career and commercial earnings.

Other than the pronouncements of Spanish politicians and Contador’s own legal team, I doubt we will hear much more for the next several weeks, but you can be sure this story will be undergoing many twists and turns in the corridors of CAS right up until the eve of the Tour, and possibly beyond. Hang on to your hats, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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?

No surprise as UCI lodges CAS appeal in Contador case

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

2 Responses to WADA joins UCI in two-pronged attack against Contador

  1. I seem to remember reading that Contador intends not to race the Tour this year. I certainly hope so, as it would cause an almighty circus having him in the peloton if the case is still ongoing. It would be nice if it was all about the cycling, for once. Here’s hoping…

    I completely agree with your assessment of the case. Am also thinking that the Spanish politicians might just make things worse for Contador with their meddling.

    • Tim says:

      It would certainly make sense for Contador to have said that. (After all, if acquitted soon enough he can always change his mind.)

      You just know that politicians cannot resist sticking their oar in. It appears they had a significant influence over RFEC’s original decision, but I agree that banging the drum when it comes to CAS cannot possibly help Contador’s case, and will only encourage them to come down harder on him should they decide he has a case to answer.

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