Upset About the Contador Decision? Grow up.

Feb 8 2012

Pat McQuaid explaining himself

"So this is why I refuse to take my own side here…" / Tony Rocha, cc-by

It is nice, on occasion, to be right about something. The CAS decision against Contador went pretty much exactly as I said it would: an athlete had a banned product in their system. The CAS enforced the rules as written. The rest was just window dressing.

Of course, there are also times when it would be nice to be wrong. Like when hours later, the head of the UCI says “There are no winners when it comes to the issue of doping”; as I’ve noted before, the UCI always seems inclined to respond with the worst possible answer.

In this case, the statement isn’t just factually untrue (Cyclingnews has a list of winners newly-minted by the case), but in spirit, it spits in the eye of everyone trying to race the sport cleanly. Because of this case, everyone who didn’t take a supplement, or a cold medicine, or a saddle-sore cream because it might make them turn out a fasle positive, is a winner. Guys like Johan VanSummeren—who’s currently gutting it out at Tour of Qatar when a single, illegal cortisone shot could simplify his life tremendously—are the winners.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Contador did come across Clenbuterol through a contaminated steak. Clearing him would send the message that going the extra mile to find clean food is wasted effort, and thus imply that any rider who spent time doing so senselessly undermined their own TdF performance. It would have also given anyone testing positive under less-innocent circumstances in the future the ready-made excuse of “the phantom steak”. These are the sorts of outcomes where no one is a winner.

It’s disheartening to hear no less than the great Eddy Merckx trot out the old boilerplate that “it’s bad for the sport” to see a rider like Contador punished to the letter of the law. Under what definition of “bad” would The Cannibal place the transition from ineffective tests and limp-wristed sanctioning to the most accure and rigorously enforced anti-doping program in the world?

Is it “bad” that fewer 20-something cyclists die in their sleep? “Bad” that low-wage cyclists don’t have to take a 10% haircut to cover “medication” for the season? “Bad” that if someone breaks the rules, they now have a reasonable expectation of being caught and punished?

I think RCS Sport director Michele Acquarone was unintentionally apt when he invoked the naiveté of children in his reaction to the news of Contador’s sanction. We’re grown-ups and we live in a grown-up world where sometimes people cheat, and we make the grown-up decision to try and punish them when they do. But I’m inclined to disagree with his assessment that everything that happend at last year’s Giro was “fake”—after all, the fantasy of Santa Claus does not make the presents under the tree any less real.

For those of us who can handle reality doled out in adult-sized portions, there’s a lot to like about yesterday’s decision. It showed that no matter how fundamentally corrupt your national organization is, and no matter how big the races you’ve won, and no matter how many powerful, politically-connected people come to your aid, the CAS is not going to be swayed by anything short of Nazi Frogmen. It’s a message that’s come about seven years too late, but I’m glad to see it get here, just the same.

Cycling won on Monday, and if there’s a scourge to match doping in the sport, it’s the hand-wringing defeatism of those who refuse to acknowledge the victory.

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10 Responses to “Upset About the Contador Decision? Grow up.”

  1. jbayliss 8 February 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    7 years too late?

  2. Kasper 9 February 2012 at 6:06 am #

    “Cycling won on monday”?. Leave as it is, there seem to be a great deal of people who disagree.

    I my self struggle, to figure out what this all means.

    I can only conclude, that since so many, including authorities in the sport disagree on this. Something is wrong somewhere.

    The system works as it was designed to. he got his punishment for having a banned substance. But maybe the system was designed the wrong way from the beginning, since so many are now disheartened by the verdict.

    If we assume that they all just has to grow up, and that they are just crying for no reason. Then I still think there is a problem. When so many disagree on such an important decision, we can throw mud toward each other, tell them to grow up, or whatever. But somewhere there is a fundamental problem.

  3. Skippy 9 February 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    The system is broken when we have to wait 566+days for a decision ! Pro Tour Cycle Racers in the main represent their country of origin and nobody wants to think that their countries reputation is besmirched by Cheating Fraudsters !

    Those athletes at the top of their sport should be sanctioned by the International Federation of which they are a member ! Committees composed of several Nations will then in a “ Timely manner decide the fate of those breaching regulations ! We live in the 21st century where there is Internet and “ Tele Conferencing “ so there can be “ Meetings ” with ALL committee members participating “ Face to Face ” through technology ! Lower level Athletes can be dealt with by their National Tribunal but these must be overseen to avoid conflict of Interest cases ! Hopefully the “ OLD BOY “ network will be avoided ?

    Each country can have several alternative members available to make the quorum and they can have a “ Blind ballot “ for who will adjudicate in the case BUT the host nation of the suspected athlete stepping aside ! Lawyers are not required , or if they are allowed should submit a paper on their Client’s position in the matter being heard !

    Later if the 95% of cases heard this way are not resolved then CAS can be a second stage or an appeal tribunal and then EXPERTS and Lawyers can be called to a formal hearing ! Politicians will not get involved nor the “ Fan clubs and forums !

    Sporting Fraud in any form deserves HARSH treatment since there are those who in Cycling have missed the accolades in Milano and Paris that may have missed .

    Would Contador have been treated differently had this system been in place , I am not sure but the result would have been in the same season !

  4. Luis Oliveira 9 February 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Man, I do have a small stroke every time I hear this talk about a “broken system.” Cause every complex problem has a perfectly simple and wrong answer. And this case was complex as it can be.

    So, yes, it might not be a perfect system but, as Cosmo mentioned, is a heck of an improvement over what we had before with 20-somethings having sudden heart attacks and all.

  5. Gianni 10 February 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Agree with your thesis, Cosmo, but I’m afraid the problem is not just failure to grow up or naiveté. It’s conflict of interest. Both the UCI and Eddy Merckx have a substantial financial interest in the cycling business, and the news that one of cycling’s greatest heroes has been found to cheat is rather catastrophic for that business. Want an UCI that gives the right answers? Then reduce them to a rule-making and enforcement body that no longer organises races for profit and/or markets TV rights.
    Those who consider the period of time that elapsed between Contador’s positive test and the TAS’ verdict as “too long” are right. They should know, however, that a substantial portion of that period is attributable to Contador’s lawyers pulling every trick out of the bag to get their client off the hook and repeatedly requesting more time to prepare/amend/supplement their defense. That’s their job and presumably the instruction of their client… but it does consume quite a bit of time.

  6. Alan 10 February 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I think, overall, the sport improves from this decision. Hopefully, all of the discussion and delays of the past 500+ days, leading to the final CAS decision, will help to cut through the clutter that in future cases.

    I understand appeals are necessary, and are a valid part of any career-changing (or career-ending) decision. Due process provides the ultimate fairness, but let’s face it……this (relatively minor) case took longer to settle than most murder trials.

    Justice is important, but so is SWIFT justice. Let’s continue to strive for justice, but let’s be SWIFTER next time. And unfortunately, there are cheaters who WILL ensure that there WILL be a next time.

  7. Anonymous 10 February 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    If Contador is guilty, the same should apply to Armstrong. Cos the latter is guilty as hell.

  8. trounder 10 February 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    If I believe in Santa Claus, then that makes the gifts under the tree super extra special because they were built at the north pole by a bunch of elves. When I find out he isn’t real, it can make me feel kind of let down because the toys and crap are all fake north pole toys and are really made in China, which is nowhere near the north pole. That sucks, big time!

    Also, I think the imaginary Santa was actually stealing the presents from those who one assumes were more deserving.

    Acquarone basically said that Santa was unmasked back in 2010, but the adults in the room told everyone that he would still be delivering the presents, same as usual, and that *maybe* he was still real! On 6 Feb 2012, we all officially learned that Santa was a fake and a thief!

    That’s what fucked everything up…that, and baby cows. And you’re right that we’re all a bunch of kids who attach a lot of emotional significance to myths and legends. I agree that cycling won, but what exactly does growing up get me? Nonplussed either way.

  9. Larry T. 11 February 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Best bit I’ve read on this, BRAVO! Another time you’ve written exactly what I would have, but much, much better.

  10. tbeatty 19 February 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Good analysis of this decision. It is a shame that it took so long to render; however, Contador got the punishment that was called for under the rules. What amazed me from the start was Contador’s perfect explanation. Realistically, the most plausible explanation for turning up a microscopic amount of Clen would be, “I have absolutely no idea why that substance is showing up in my test.” Instead, he trotted out a too perfect explanation. His brother personally transported a steak from Spain to France, and only Alberto consumed it. Absolutely ridiculous on the face of it. Guilty, as charged. Throw the book at him. They did (finally), and it’s done.

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