Alberto Contador cleared of doping, but where’s the beef?

Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in happier times at the Team Astana training camp prior to the 2009 season. Twin sons of different mothers? Only history will tell, or will it? Photo © Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe

Professional cycling seems to have shot itself in the foot yet again. Three time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador has been cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation of doping. Contador had tested positive for clenbuterol with arguably small, but still detectable amounts on the second rest day of the 2010 Tour, claiming it was the result of tainted meat.

Now, the World Anti Doping Association’s rules clearly state that the athlete is liable for any positive test, and it is up to that athlete to prove without a doubt that they inadvertently ingested, or otherwise came into contact with the substance. So, where’s the beef?

To my knowledge, there has been no substantive proof given to the tainted meat assertion, and it appears that the Spanish association have chosen to let their countryman off on a technicality: the UCI’s rule #296 states that they have to prove that the rider knowingly doped.

What a mess. This appears, to me anyway, to make zero sense. Here you have the world’s anti-doping governing body’s (WADA) absolute liability clause being rebuked by a national federation (Royal Spanish Cycling Federation – RSCF), based on a sport’s governing body’s (UCI) own poorly worded, and sometimes contradictory regulations.

WADA appears toothless, the RSCF appear biased in favour of their star rider, and the UCI appear complicit, and utterly unqualified, or worse yet, unwilling to manage their sport.

Crazy? Yes, and is there a better reason than this absurdity to perhaps blow the whole thing up and start from scratch? What is the point of zero tolerance rules if they can be overturned by federations that show a distinct conflict of interest in refuting them? Ultimately, most of these decisions end up making their way to the Court for Arbitration on Sport (CAS) for a final ruling. What a colossal waste of time, and money.

Let’s not even talk about things like: the time delay between the actual test to the announcement, the suspicion that due process was not being followed by the UCI as they attempted to find an explanation, the length of time it took the Spanish federation to initially sanction Contador, and the fact that the initial 1 year ban should have been 2 years, based on the UCI’s own rules.

In my humble opinion, it’s time to purge the UCI of its old boys network, and take away the responsibility of national governing bodies to rule on positive drug tests. Give the rules, and WADA, some teeth.

It is ironic that the big cycling news today is that Lance Armstrong announced his retirement, barely a day after Contador’s absolution. Could we have two more poignant examples of allegations of the UCI’s double standards in dealing with its star athletes? Twin sons of different mothers? Only history will tell, or will it? The “cleansing” and “rebirth”of professional cycling will not occur until things change in the sport’s own governing body.

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