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.