Friday, January 28, 2011

Contador Maintains Innocence, Says He'll Fight Suspension


Yesterday I wrote a piece about Alberto Contador's being stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title and his  suspension from competitive cycling for one year. In that story I wrote that Contador would be holding a press conference today and that he had ten days to provide any evidence that could possibly impact the ruling on his ability to compete. In typical Contador fashion, at that press conference he wasn't silent on the matter and has vowed to fight the suspension.

The whole controversy started in August when one of Contador's doping control samples tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned substance that can be used for muscle building that can also provide some short term, competitive advantages for riders. That alone would normally mean that a positive test would result in a suspension, but the drug is also used, illegally I might add, to build bulk in cattle. Contador has maintained all along that he tested positive due to eating tainted meat that was brought by a team chef from Spain on one of the rest days during the Tour, and it is quite possible that that is what happened. Trace elements of the drug can be passed into the human body from meat that has been enhanced through its use, and if that is the case, then Contador is a victim of the system, as he has said.

The Spanish cycling federation seems to acknowledge that that might be the case as well, since they offered him a one year ban and not two, which has become the standard. They seem to recognize that it is possible that the clenbuterol was passed on to the pro cyclist from something he ate, but they're also in a position that it might not matter. Contador did test positive for a banned substance, and they only have his word that he didn't take it directly for competitive reason. It puts them in a difficult position of trying to rule on the matter in a fair way, but one that is consistent with existing anti-doping policy.

So? What are your thoughts on the matter? What do you think the cycling federations should do in a case such as this one? Clearly the substance is in Contador's body, but how it got there remains a mystery. Should there be a zero tolerance rule or are there gray areas? How do those gray areas get defined?

This isn't an easy thing to rule on. On the one hand, I'm of the mind that he tested positive and that you can't take any chances. The ban needs to apply. But on the other, I'm sympathetic to the possibility that he may have picked up the drug through other means. There is no real way to be sure if Contador was cheating or not, and unfortunately that probably means you need to take the hard line on the matter.

Disagree? Than how would you rule?

4 comments:

thearmchairsportsfan.com said...

Ignorance alone is not a valid defence, although I guess it is acceptable as mitigation given how clenbuterol can occasionally turn up in the food chain due to unscrupulous farming practices.

The problem with the one-year ban is it is neither here nor there. For me, it's not a stiff enough deterrent, but at the same time if Contador is innocent (personally, I don't believe he is, but that's just my opinion) then a year's ban is too long for a trace-positive test.

Aside from this case, the authorities should set a lower threshold so that if a tiny, non-performance enhancing amount is found in someone's sample there is scope for a warning but not a ban. At least that way we avoid this murky grey area where we sometimes punish innocent athletes "just in case".

http://thearmchairsportsfan.com/2011/01/29/contador-makes-aggressive-first-move-in-response-to-proposed-ban/

Adventure Junkie said...

Well said on all points. This is obviously a difficult case to weigh in on, but as I said, I think zero tolerance is in order just because it's so hard to tell where the gray areas are.

Anonymous said...

Outside magazine did a very good feature earlier this year about the 'unfairness' of the drug testing system: http://outsideonline.com/culture/201001/zach-lund-wada-1.html

I have to say, that although I can sympathise with Contador if he took the drug unintentionally, the rules are the rules. If others with good cause haven't been given exemptions, then neither should he. That doesn't mean I agree with the system, just that it should apply to all equally.

Adventure Junkie said...

Exactly right. The rules must be enforced equally across the board, with no exceptions.

Officials should work to clarify rules in the future so these odd conditions don't come up again in the future.