Alberto Contador returns to cycling circuit, but showdown looms over doping claims
Spain's cycling federation cleared Alberto Contador of doping charges, but international officials seek a fresh review. At issue are Contador's intent and Spain's impartiality.
A day after the Spanish cycling federation unexpectedly cleared him of doping allegations, triggering a wave of global criticism, an ecstatic Alberto Contador returned to competitive racing Thursday.Skip to next paragraph
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But that satisfaction may be short-lived. If the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are not satisfied with the Spanish interpretation of international doping rules, they have up to two months to request a fresh review from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, with whom the final decision would then rest.
At stake for Mr. Contador is his 2010 Tour de France victory and the ability to try for a fourth title this year. But for the international sports community, the implications could be far greater if his case is taken up again.
At issue is a potentially landmark decision in a broader decades-old debate: whether the burden of proof in doping cases should lie with athletes or with the agencies and officials tasked with keeping sports free of illegal drugs.
As WADA's alphabet-soup list of banned drugs has grown since the organization was founded a decade ago, numerous athletes who have tested positive – including Contador – have argued that the illegal substance found in their body was a result of food or supplement contamination, rather than intentional doping.
If Contador's case – one of the most high profile in cycling – goes to CAS, it could become a showdown. On one side are those, including WADA, who insist that an athlete is responsible for cheating no matter what his or her motives. On the other are those who argue that the anti-doping regime has become too bureaucratic and dogmatic to mete out justice in doping cases, where the science is still being refined and intent is often hard to prove.
Two key issues: Intent and impartiality
The decision to exonerate Contador came as a surprise. European media broadly questioned the reversal only three weeks after the Spanish federation communicated its provisional decision to suspend the cyclist for one year – a move that would have stripped him of his latest Tour de France title.
Contador, a three-time Tour champion, has claimed that the clenbuterol detected during a rest day of the last Tour de France came from a contaminated steak a friend brought for him. Clenbuterol, an agent used to improve leanness in cattle and humans, has been banned in Europe for decades and even Spanish cattle herder associations accused the cyclist of mudding up their image.
Two key issues are whether Contador intended to take the drug – a condition referred to as "intentionality" – and whether the Spanish cycling federation showed partiality in clearing the national hero of doping charges. International sports officials have lobbied for the Court of Arbitration to get to the bottom of both questions.
“I strongly hope that UCI and WADA appeal to CAS to ensure that this case is really solved,” said International Olympic Committee Vice President Thomas Bach on Wednesday, speaking to German media.
The Swiss arbitration court would not treat the case as an appeal, but rather a do-over.
“It’s [international bodies] saying they are not content and want the investigation redone. It’s tried all over again,” says Jan Paulsson, one of more than 100 CAS arbitrators. “You don’t want to have any suspicion that a national federation might show favoritism.”