The Stakes Are Rising

by Rant on April 29, 2007

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Ian Thorpe, Swimming, Tour de France

Like a Hollywood thriller, the stakes in the Landis case seem to be constantly rising the closer we get to the hearing. Last week’s hubbub over the B-sample testing at LNDD is but the latest example of how far the anti-doping side is willing to go in order to “prove” its case.

We’ve heard, ad nauseum, how USADA is interesting in seeking truth and understanding the facts of the case, but by their actions, that’s not exactly what they’re up to or after. If you want to seek truth, follow the approach the Australians did in evaluating Ian Thorpe’s test results from a year ago. Yes, it’s taken some time for a decision to be made, but before pressing charges against the now-retired swimmer, ASADA has been extraordinarily vigilant in seeking to determine the true cause of his results.

Contrast that to USADA’s approach to the whole case. If they were truly interested in seeking truth and understanding the facts, shouldn’t they have taken the time to really analyze the data coming from LNDD prior to filing charges against Landis? Granted, the B sample results released on August 5th confirmed the A sample results.

But before pursuing the case, USADA should have very carefully vetted the data to make sure that the conclusions matched the data presented. I’m sure that they could have asked another anti-doping lab to review the documentation and offer an opinion whether the results were correct. Given the history of anti-doping cases based on results from LNDD (a number have been dropped or overturned over the years), and the various information security leaks and other problems that had already been noted at the lab, USADA should have been especially careful to review the data prior to filing charges.

But they didn’t do that. Instead, they filed charges very quickly. Why? Pressure from outside organizations? The intense media scrutiny? A hidden agenda? Whatever the reason, USADA failed to live up to their obligation to fully determine the facts, as well as any mitigating circumstances before filing their case.

While you can’t blame USADA for the original leaks in the case, surely they knew just how much damage had already been done to Floyd Landis. If they’re all about fair play, they owed it to him to ensure that they had adequately reviewed the documentation.

Landis and his team upped the ante by putting the lab documentation out there for all to see. It was a gutsy move, but certainly one that pissed off Mr. Tygart and others in the anti-doping establishment, as it caused large numbers of people to review Landis’ results and it raised questions about whether or not the results were even valid. Science, despite certain officials delusions about it, is not infallible.

USADA upped the ante by refusing to provide discovery documentation as requested (and later ordered to by the arbitration panel). Landis’ defense raised them, by hammering on that fact for months.

Various members of the media, in investigating the case, caused the ante to rise even more by highlighting inadequacies and worse in the treatment of Landis and others at the hands of the anti-doping machine.

Landis raised the ante again by hiring Maurice Suh and his firm, but that was in part due to the fact that he’s fighting two proceedings. The USADA proceedings and the one in France. Somewhere about that time, USADA raised things up a notch by demanding the additional B-sample tests. Landis fought back, and fought back hard. Including by making the request public knowledge.

Somewhere in all of this, USADA did something highly unusual: They hired an outside firm to prosecute the case. Was it about the time Maurice Suh was hired? Or earlier? Or later? Are they afraid that Landis will win, and then sue for damages — damages so great that he might put USADA out of business? Seems like a reasonable conjecture to me.

By now, we have two sides fighting for their lives. Floyd Landis has had his career destroyed — in large part by the way the case has been handled. Consider Barry Bonds for a moment. Many suspect him of doping. The circumstantial evidence certainly points in that direction. And yet, until someone can actually prove Bonds doped, he’s able to continue playing baseball and earning his living.

Floyd Landis, on the other hand, while being charged with doping, has not yet been found guilty. That’s up to the arbitration panel and probably the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He’s not able to keep earning a living. Something isn’t right about that. In our system of justice, one isn’t supposed to be punished until convicted. Yet the anti-doping process, as created by WADA, and interpreted by the UCI and USADA, has forced Landis out of work and ruined his career.

On the USADA side of things, the stakes have been raised so high that they too are fighting for their lives. If Landis prevails, USADA will be under a great deal of pressure to reform its processes. Even if he loses, they’re likely to feel the heat. Travis Tygart, who will become the head of USADA in the near future, could suddenly find himself out of work if he loses the case and a huge financial judgment is awarded to Landis for the damages caused by this mess. WADA, the UCI, LNDD and others may be in a similar boat.

So at this point, each side is all in. I wonder if or how they’re going to manage to raise the stakes before the hearing. But I’m sure that between now and the time this case is put to rest, the stakes are going to keep rising.

And now we know what the next raise of the stakes is: LNDD erased the original data files from the Stage 17 tests. More to follow …

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