What to think of our anti-doping authorities?

Catching up with cycling news from the end of 2008 ( CyclingNews – great website with all the news of the professional race scene), I saw that Floyd Landis was planning to pursue legal proceedings in the USA.

Having won the Tour de France in 2006, he was eventually stripped of his Yellow Jersey and banned for 2 years after his case had gone all the way to the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS).

If you read the cycling forums there are lots of people who take the view that this proves Landis doped, he should admit it, and basically get out of cycling. I don’t want to dredge through all the myriad inconsistencies in the case brought by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI – world cycling’s governing body) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). There are tons of articles on the Internet and reproduced documents from both sides.

Suffice to say that these inconsistencies include the three-person tribunal in the US as well as the CAS criticising the Paris-based laboratory’s methodology in conducting the test. Comments from the manufacturer of the testing machine that the French lab didn’t understand the software required to conduct the test are in the public domain. As are statements that the testing machinery was incorrectly installed.

It’s also a matter of public record that this lab in Chatenay-Malabry had nobody on the staff accredited to conduct the test – although the Director of another accredited lab in Canada said in the US tribunal that it wasn’t a difficult test to carry out.

WADA insist that the same lab carries out the same test on both the A and B sample, and Landis was not allowed either to observe the B test or to conduct his own in another accredited lab. The tribunal in the US conceded that the documentation provided to prove the positive test had been doctored by the lab – the reference numbers of the samples didn’t match up and corrections had been made by hand.

When the UCI asked the Paris lab to test the B sample of Iban Mayo following his positive test for EPO, the lab was closed for vacation, so the UCI sent the test to another accredited lab in Ghent, Belgium. They were unable to replicate the result found by the Paris lab, leading the Spanish cycling authorities to clear Mayo. So the UCI sent the sample back to the Paris lab, presumably to get the result they wanted. Which they subsequently did.

It’s also true, and a matter of court record, that the original positive test of Landis, for an unnatural ratio between 2 types of testosterone, was invalid, but that in further testing ‘exogenous testostorene’ was detected. While this testing was going on, the chief of WADA made a comment about the huge levels of testosterone coursing round Floyd Landis’ body, and made a reference to the safety of French virgins. In fact, the issue with Landis’ sample was an abnormally low reading of one of the testosterone isotopes giving a high ratio indicative of doping. The issue was a ratio aberration caused by a low level of testosterone, and the head of the testing agency is condemning an athlete during a court process with accusations of the exact opposite – high levels of testosterone.

And remember this finding was subsequently thrown out.

I did say I wasn’t going to re-hash all of these arguments, so I’ll leave it there. If you think I’ve exaggerated or made this up, check out all sorts of sources, including Floyd Landis’ book (Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France) and the various letters pages of CyclingNews.com, as well as the personal websites of Floyd Landis, Iban Mayo and Tyler Hamilton.

None of these cases have ever been heard in a criminal or civil court. I remember after the judgement in the Floyd Landis case in the US, WADA had to give or lend US$1.3 million to UCI to cover their legal costs and prevent them going bust. WADA’s chief Dick Pound made a comment that they would consider pursuing Floyd Landis for this money.

I read a comment in a forum that such an action would mean they had to pursue proper legal proceedings – i.e. both sides get a lawyer, and the rules are the law of the land, and not the rules of the sport governing body. The same writer concluded that in such an eventuality Landis was almost certain to win, which would mean not only additional costs for WADA but re-open the can of worms about his innocence / guilt. Anybody who has followed this case even from a distance knew for certain that neither WADA nor the UCI would ever dare have their conduct in this case subjected to scrutiny in an open court, and of course they’ve done nothing about it since.

Do I think they’re all innocent? No, not necessarily. I have read David Walsh’s book, From Lance to Landis – a great read, by the way. I share his doubts and frustration at the incredible amount of circumstantial evidence about cycling in general and some cyclists in particular. And some of it goes way beyond circumstantial. But I don’t understand this attitude of mind which looks at infinite shades of grey and sees black & white.

Anyone who criticizes WADA or the UCI is accused of supporting dopers. What a stupid argument – come down like a ton of bricks, by all means, but on the right person. Which means make sure you get it right, and don’t make stuff up. This issue has made me very angry over a number of years – I truly believe that both WADA and the UCI let us all down very badly with their vindictive witch-hunts.

It simply isn’t enough to be almost certain. In fact, as we all know, it isn’t even enough to be absolutely certain if you can’t prove it. Anyone who reads all the evidence will conclude that WADA and the UCI have proved nothing except their own incompetence, and as a cycling fan they certainly don’t speak for me.

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