Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dodging bullets

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)'s acceptance of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) sanctions against Lance Armstrong raises some interesting questions. Although the UCI has denied suggestions that it was complicit in Armstrong's doping, an independent commission appointed by an 'independent sports governing body' will explore USADA's evidence against it. This includes compelling evidence, such as witness statements of conversations with Armstrong suggesting that he believed that a 2002 payment to the UCI was in order to cover up a positive test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. If Armstrong is a fantasist, the UCI has an interest in exposing him as one.

By approving USADA's sanctions, the UCI has ensured that such allegations will not yet be explored further by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) or a court of law. However, the language of the UCI's 22 October statement suggests that it has serious issues with USADA's evidence. The UCI talks about 'incorrect and incomplete statements' and 'UCI disagrees with these statements and criticism'. The investigatory commission will have to explore why the UCI considers witness statements to be false. If this is proven, further lawsuits could follow.

The UCI also states that 'USADA's reference to national law is not appropriate' and contests that USADA has violated Article 17 of the World Anti-Doping Code. This only allows action to be taken within eight years of the alleged anti-doping violation. The UCI rightly point out that 'it is WADA's role and responsibility to ensure compliance with the Code and to appeal to the CAS in order to warrant, as is the mission of WADA, that the Code is applied in a uniform way and that all athletes are treated equally'.

WADA decided not to appeal this point, agreeing with USADA's analysis that the eight-year Statute of Limitations had been suspended 'by Mr Armstrong's fraudulent concealment of his doping and other wrongful acts'. This analysis is supported by a recent American Arbitration Association decision in a doping case, where the panel suspended the Statute of Limitations because the athlete had lied under oath (USADA v Hellebuyck, AAA Case No. 77 190 168 11, Jan 30, 2012).

There is still a long way to go before the issue of whether the UCI was complicit in Armstrong's doping is resolved. Armstrong still has a right to appeal and the IOC has yet to decide what action - if any - to take. It remains to be seen whether by accepting USADA's sanctions, the UCI has dodged a bullet or shot itself in the foot.

Andy Brown


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