As promised, the Court of Arbitration for Sport revealed their decision in the Alberto Contador case a few hours ago. According to the press release announcing the decision:
[T]he CAS has partially upheld the appeals filed by WADA (Ed: the World Anti-Doping Agency) and the UCI (Ed: the International Cycling Union) and has found Alberto Contador guilty of a doping offense.
As a result, Contador will serve a suspension that will end on August 5, 2012. And all of his results between his positive test result and today will be erased from the record books. Which means his 2010 Tour win, his 2011 Giro d’Italia victory and a slew of other placings in races he’s competed in during 2011 and the first part of 2012.
Given the World Anti-Doping Code and WADA’s/the UCI’s rules, the CAS came to the right decision. That said, I’m no fan of strict liability and a number of aspects of the agency’s rules. Contador may even be telling the truth, at least in some manner or fashion. As the panel’s press release notes:
Alberto Contador alleged that the presence of clenbuterol in his system originated from eating contaminated meat. The UCI and WADA submitted that it was more likely that the adverse analytical finding of the Athlete was caused by a blood transfusion or by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement than by the consumption of contaminated meat.
The Panel found that there was no established facts that would elevate the possibility of meat contamination to an event that could have occurred on a balance of probabilities. Unlike certain other countries, notably outside Europe, Spain is not known to have a contamination problem with clenbuterol in meat. Furthermore, no other cases of athletes having tested positive to clenbuterol allegely in connection with the consumption of Spanish meat are known.
The panel concluded that both the meat contamination scenario and the blood transfusion scenario were, in theory, possible explanations for the adverse analytical findings, but were however equally unlikely. In the Panel’s opinion, on the basis of the evidence adduced, the presence of clenbuterol was more likely caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement.
In other words, the panel is asking the question, “Where’s the beef?” This has been the problem with Contador’s defense since day one. If he could have collected another steak from the same animal and shown it to be contaminated with clenbuterol, his case would have been stronger.
The blood contamination that WADA/the UCI offered up as an explanation is also possible, but apparently the panel wasn’t convinced by the evidence. Contaminated food supplements (vitamins and such) have been at the heart of a number of cases, including the Jessica Hardy case. But in Hardy’s situation, she still had some of the supplement and it could be tested to determine if it was contaminated (turns out, it was). Her suspension was reduced as a result.
Contador’s strategy in all of this has worked out well for the cyclist, even if he has had all of his results nullified and even if he has to give back all his winnings. And even if the CAS rules at some point in the future that the Spanish rider will have to pay a fine of 2,485,000 euros (more than $3 million). How can I say this?
Well, even if he has to give all of the results and money up, Alberto Contador actually did train and race during his “suspension” — except for the 5+ months of his preliminary suspension (when at least one previous Tour winner would have been on vacation), and the six months from now until August. There’s no better training for racing than actually racing. And given that Contador has all that training and racing under his belt, he will lose less fitness than if he had been forced to sit out two entire seasons.
Contador will be coming back just a few weeks before the Vuelta a España. With a good training program and proper motivation (I’m sure he’ll have a stomach filled with anger and a head full of steam), he could well come out raging during the last of 2012’s Grand Tours and pull off a victory.
All that said, the Contador case raises an important issue. One which WADA needs to address. Given that the tests used by the anti-doping agencies are getting more capable of detecting ever-smaller amounts of banned substances, we can expect an increase in the number of doping cases that may be a result of environmental contamination. The agency needs to specify a threshold level for each drug, below which any result will be considered contamination and not an actual positive test result.
Otherwise, more and more athletes will be stuck in the situation of fighting a doping charge or accepting a suspension for an offense they didn’t commit. And the agencies may be forced to defend their cases in arbitration — an expensive and time-consuming prospect, to say the least. Beyond that, the agency should seriously consider modifying the list of banned substances for each sport to only those drugs/techniques that confer an actual benefit. In Contador’s case, clenbuterol might still have been on the list of banned substances, but the small amount found in his system would have been set aside as contamination rather than conscious doping.
So what do you think? Was the decision the right one or should Alberto Contador have been exonerated by the CAS? For those who are interested, you can read the full text of the CAS decision here.
Speaking of “exoneration”
Did you happen to notice that the Lance Armstrong investigation was dropped late Friday afternoon? (A perfect time to bury a story, especially on Super Bowl weekend, by the way.) Charles Pelkey quickly wrote up an Explainer discussing the news. And I just ran across an interesting take on what happened over at Cyclismas.com. Take a few moments to read both columns if you get a chance. And feel free to continue the discussion of this development, too.