Too Much To Hope For? Too Much To Ask?

by Rant on June 30, 2008 · 10 comments

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Tour de France

Yesterday I read both of the final briefs submitted in the Floyd Landis case. The first one I read was USADA’s brief, which is slightly longer than Team Landis’ by a score of 51-47 — pages that is. After reading the work of Richard Young and company, I had a sinking feeling. I told my wife, “If the panel buys these arguments, Floyd is sunk.”

Then, I read the brief from the Landis side, and I thought, “Perhaps, just perhaps, Landis might be able to win.” As I scanned through Arnie Baker’s The Wiki Defense 2.0, it appeared that maybe — if they accepted Baker’s arguments — the panel could go Floyd’s way. Baker’s book, weighing in at 441 pages (100 more than the first edition) contains numerous new pieces of information clearly informed by the case Team Landis put on in New York in March. It goes further into the reasons that this particular case should be overturned.

Well, as we’ve seen, that’s not what happened. Trust But Verify already has a preliminary read through the decision. In scanning through it for myself, I noticed that much of the panel’s decisions — with the notable exception of when Landis’ suspension should start — went exactly the way USADA argued. The wording of the panel’s decisions on each point, in fact, seems eerily similar to what Young and company submitted.

If ever there was a case that should have been won based on the problems uncovered by the athlete’s defense team, this is the one. Landis and his team uncovered numerous problems with how the lab in question performed their work. Both panels noted that while the labs may have been sloppy, their errors didn’t rise to the level needed to throw out the case. Well, given the presumption that the labs do their work perfectly because — well because we say so — exactly how is an athlete to prove he’s innocent. Or at least, not guilty?

The underlying message in this award is something I find particularly disturbing. Basically, what I see the panel saying is, “If you’re accused of doping, don’t bother putting on a defense. Roll over and take the punishment. Sure, if you’re actually innocent, then you’re screwed. But the way things are set up, now that you’ve been accused, you’re obviously guilty. Don’t waste your money or your time. Just take it and get it over with.”

The CAS had a golden opportunity with the Landis case. One thing that perhaps people on both sides of the case can agree on is that the lab work in question is less than stellar. It has some serious flaws, in fact. As does the WADA system, which needs to do better as far as establishing standards and then holding their accredited labs to those standards. Had they found in favor of Landis, they would have served notice that sloppy lab work, shoddy record keeping, clear violations of international standards and more would not be tolerated.

We hold athletes to a rule of strict liability. If it’s banned and it’s in them, they’re deemed to be guilty. Doesn’t much matter how it got there. Doesn’t much matter whether there was an intent to dope. Doesn’t even matter if the drug in question is even effective in doping. It’s banned, it’s in you, you’re guilty. Love it or hate it, that’s the system as we know it today.

Well, if the athletes are held to such a high standard, all other players in the system should be, too. Poor documentation, unclear records on how tests were performed, missing or non-existant validation studies, documents that “magically appear” when needed to refute the athlete’s arguments — all of these are things that should not be tolerated, either. If the errors are few, and have little effect on the actual results, perhaps there could be some leniency — just like in the instances where an athlete has been found guilty of doping because of an error by a coach, or for using something that in his/her home country doesn’t contain banned drugs but elsewhere it does. But taken together, with as many as occurred in the Landis case, the message should be loud and clear. “We don’t tolerate dopers. But we also don’t tolerate sloppy labs. If you can’t do your work right, you’ll suffer the consequences.”

But to deliver such a verdict on the eve of the Tour de France, and more importantly on the eve of the eve of the Olympics, that could shake the anti-doping system to its core. This might not be such a popular idea in certain quarters, and needless to say, there would be much political pressure to avoid such a decision. We will never know, of course, how much pressure (if any) was ever exerted on this panel, but a quick read of the award suggests that the panel pretty much caved to USADA on all of the important points. They threw Floyd a bone by not starting his suspension in September 2007, as USADA had asked for. But then they bitch-slapped the boy (sorry BSMB) for daring to contest the case, by levying a $100,000 award to USADA to help cover some of their costs. (One would hope that this would be the end of such cost awards against Landis and that WADA can go take a $1.3 million hike.)

All in all, it seems as if the ruling against Floyd Landis was preordained. Pat McQuaid offered Floyd some “sage” advice almost two years ago. Basically, he told Landis to “shut up and take it” because it would ruin him financially to contest the case. That’s the message, loud and clear. If you’re accused, just shut up and take it. You’re not going to win.

But Landis is not one to do so. He’s one of those rare people who has the courage of his convictions, and who could not and will not admit to something he didn’t do. The truth of the case at this point won’t matter — at least not to the vast majority of casual fans — because the CAS has spoken. But Landis should be applauded for standing up for what he believes in, despite the very high personal (and financial) cost for having done so. There is much we wouldn’t have known about the flaws of the anti-doping system were it not for Floyd’s courage in the face of adversity.

As Bill Hue said over at TBV,

Floyd is my hero because in the face of the biggest travesties of “justice” I have ever seen, he stood proud, determined, true to himself and his family and did not bow to those who define “the game” by making its rules, prosecuting those deemed to violate those rules and then stack the deck with those responsible to judge those “violations”. He made them work for it and we are all the beneficiaries of his efforts even though he ultimately derived no benefit, whatsoever.

Today, the Court of Arbitration of Sport finally declared the winner of the 2006 Tour de France after 2273 miles and 708 days. Floyd Landis won the race on the road but lost it, inevitably, to WADA and its useful idiots at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory, the international media and those who slavishly kneel at the alter of the anti-doping gods.

In the end, it was perhaps too much to hope for and too much to ask that Landis would be exonerated. The system protects the system. Exactly where he goes from here has not been announced yet. We do know that at the end of January, he will be able to start racing again — assuming he finds a team. But, of course, it won’t be a ProTour team, as their “code of ethics” bars ProTour teams from hiring someone who’s served a suspension for an additional two years.

That means, by the time he could be on a ProTour team, Floyd Landis will be about 35. In this brave new world of the UCI versus the ASO, even if that happens, there’s no guarantee that he will be allowed to race in the Tour de France or any of the other big events.

Floyd Landis deserved better than what the system has dished out to him. Much better. Today’s ruling is — to use some classic understatement — a real shame.

I’ll be posting more commentary and discussion of the case later, after I’ve had a chance to read the panel’s ruling more thoroughly. And for those who may be wondering, despite today’s ruling and the possible end of the road for the Floyd Landis case (I wouldn’t bet on that, however) Rant Your Head Off will be around for a good long time to come.

And, for those who wish to do the same, tonight I’ll be raising a glass of Jack Daniels in Floyd’s honor. He’s a true champion who held his head high through even the toughest moments over the last two years. Respeck.

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R Wharton June 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Cheers to the Rooster, who crowed until the pissed off farmer lopped his head off.

bill hue June 30, 2008 at 1:05 pm

The hundred grand they awarded “Poor Richard” and his rightious crew was for Richard’ s expenditure of $60,000 for 9 witnesses Maurice wasn’t allowed to depose ahead of time because the Rules didn’t compel depositions and the Panel didn’t Order them. That’s $1666.66 per person/per day plus $40,000 to offset the expense to bring WADA’s “in house” neutrals to testify as to the “truth” WADA labs are presumed to apply.

Although it was said that I had a “man crush” on Richard Young when I was expressing facination and awe with his ability to totally violate many Rules of Evidence in Malibu and not only get away with it but be treated by the Panel as if he carried a couple stone pillars from on high , in hindsight I think all should see by now what I clearly saw then…… The guy OWNS the process. He wrote the Code. He knows a Code violation when he sees one because, of course, he wrote the Code. He knows how to apply the Code and he was willing and allowed to actually create evidence through leading direct exam to nail the case down in Malibu. I could barely believe my eyes or ears in actual witness of that. Once Botre cleared out and his fellow Panel members needed a road map delivered to them so that the matter might be suitably concluded, he wrote their Findings and Conclusions for them. Compare USADA’s post hearing brief to the decision itself. There are striking similarities. It is a rare lawyer that can hit all points with exactly the argument and rational adopted by the trier of fact. Here, there are SO many complex issues that Young hit out of the park. In fact, he got his bat on and swatted out every single one of them except maybe that Leadville 100 issue and that thing was probably Matt Barnett’s baby.

Now, I know enough about the real world of American Jurisprudence Richard sometimes has to practice in to know he’d have to change his M.O. considerably to pull any of this off in a real Court of Law. But if Travis, WADA, AAA-CAS, CAS and American Sport Federations keep sliding him cases, he might just squeak out a living without having to bother.

Denise June 30, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Rant, Bill,

I will also have a glas of Jack tonight for the real winner of the TdF 2006, thinking of the epic ride of stage 17, say cheers to the courage of Floyd to oppose himself against a whole system.
I wish all guys involved with USADA, WADA, the Olympics and whoever else is on the political side: I hope you sleep well and you can bear your face in a mirror.
Until now I refused to believe that this organizations are without moral and honor. I learned better.
Denise

bitch slap me back! June 30, 2008 at 1:40 pm

“”But then they bitch-slapped the boy (sorry BSMB) for daring to contest the case, by levying a $100,000 award to USADA to help cover some of their costs.”””

One of many….

Cabazon June 30, 2008 at 2:22 pm

He’s guilty because he tested positive and the test was positive because the lab says the test was positive and the lab is right because they only do things correctly because they’re WADA accredited. Really? So I guess the only way to really win, whether you’re innocent or guilty, is to prove that the lab is not actually WADA accredited?

Most years I can’t wait to wake up at frickin’ 4am every day for 3 weeks in July.

pem June 30, 2008 at 2:39 pm

Hello Rant:

I bought my bottle of Jack Daniels 9 months ago when we did that toast for him. I had a shot one other time since then for no particular reason, but I will have another tonight.

Floyd, I am saving my bottle for the day we can celebrate the righting of a wrong.

Peter.

austincyclist June 30, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Let’s hope Floyd fights on. I am encouraged by his “I am looking into my legal options”. I really hope he goes all the way.. I know the cycling community is hoping for that.. Floyd, how will history remember you? keep fighting!!!!!!

Still need the public and media backing.. Maybe a 60 minutes/dateline/20-20 review of the case from both sides?

Further, I’d like to see a video combining quotes of people like Lance, Paul and Phil, Bobke, his wife and daughter, his mom and dad, hometown folks, past team mates, and various Dr’s and scientific experts all saying, he’s innocent and why they believe that.. final person in the clip, Floyd of course. Have em take out an Ad during the tour with that.

William Schart June 30, 2008 at 6:50 pm

I rather expected that things would not go Landis’ way, but I did hope for some partial vindication. They could have easily tossed him a more meaningful bone by reverting the ban date to when Phonak fired him. And they could have come down harder on LNDD; what they are saying is that it is OK to be incompetent as long as your honest. Hope they feel the same way if they ever have to lab work done for medical reasons.

WADA set up a system such that it is next to impossible to beat. Given that mistakes can and do get made, it is likely that sooner or later some innocent athlete will get wrongly convicted, and then will have little recourse.

snake June 30, 2008 at 8:31 pm

austincyclist sed: Let’s hope Floyd fights on.

wtf ? what’s left ? it’s corrupt from the bottom to the top. there’s nowhere else to turn. it’s over. the fat lady has sung.

my father likes to say: “it could have been worse; it could have been me.”

i’ll drink a J.D. tonight in celebration of The Good Fight. but after that, i think, the time will have come to give it up, move on, and be thankful I was never great enough to get so royally screwed.

Rant June 30, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Denise, Pem, Snake,
I had my JD in celebration of The Good Fight earlier. I don’t know what Floyd should do next. My advice would be to take some time, thing things through, and then do whatever is the right thing to do for him and his family. He’s taken it this far, I don’t know how much further it can go — either in the US courts or in the Swiss courts. But that’s a decision to be made at a later date.

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