UPDATED INFORMATION APPEARS BELOW IN QUOTATION BOX.
Lance Armstrong's lawyers were back in court yesterday, seeking an injunction against the US Anti Doping Agency. At risk; Lance's 7 Tour de France titles and the legacy of US bicycle racing.
Notice that allegations of a doping conspiracy are not being brought against Lance by the CAS, UCI, WADA, Tour de France, or any competing team during his championship reign from 1999 through 2005. These charges are being brought by the USADA - a quasi-governmental agency tasked with drug testing US athletes.
According to the USADA's CEO Travis Tygart "When USADA has information about the existence of a sophisticated, far-reaching doping conspiracy, it is our duty under the established rules to conduct a thorough, fair investigation to uncover the truth...”
It doesn't matter that this "far-reaching doping conspiracy" allegedly took place over a decade ago. It also doesn't matter that a lack of physical evidence - a positive test result, a video, a taped phone conversation, or a seizure of illicit substances - has failed to result in any criminal charges being filed after an 18-month investigation by an actual law enforcement agency.
What appears to matter to the USADA is giving credence to a conspiracy theory.
There are basically two camps that exist among cycling fans; those that believe in Lance's innocence and those that believe in his guilt. This debate rages on regardless of the findings of any law enforcement agency or sport panel. This debate will never be settled conclusively as long as doubt remains about the legitimacy of an agency's authority and the nature of the evidence presented.
Here are three articles that explain what has already happened in the USADA's investigation, what Armstrong is doing to stop the proceedings, and the specifics of his objections to the process. To summarize, Lance doesn't believe the USADA has jurisdiction to strip him of his 7 TDF titles 7 - 13 years after the fact without affording him full Due Process as defined in the US Constitution.
As much as I've gone on record despising cheating in bicycle racing and the conflation of doping with the activity of bicycling, I have to agree with Lance on this principle; he has a right to Due Process under the law.
Ordinarily, I am not one to buy into conspiracy theories. In general, it doesn't seem plausible that a number of individuals are capable of carrying out a complicated, clandestine plan without one loose cannon jeopardizing the entire illicit operation. It's analogous to our system of government in that there must be checks and balances in place to keep any one player from gaining the upper hand. A conspiracy will fall apart when trust is violated.
In the court of public opinion, it certainly seems plausible that the teams of Johan Bruyneel could have executed a concerted effort to not only ingest banned substances, but to conceal their effects, as well. After all, each party to the "conspiracy" had everything to gain - money and fame, mostly - and everything to lose - racing ban, fines, reputation - by participating. The riders had to trust Bruyneel and the doctors that what they were doing would be safe, effective, and undetectable. They also had to trust one another not to reveal their actions to anyone outside the group and not to ingest anything outside the program that would generate a positive drug test result.
If this were a movie, the plot would be predictable and ultimately, justice would be served. The weakest links in the chain - Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis - get caught and take a bullet to protect their comrades. Over time, however, the authorities wear them down, force them to turn on one another, recant, and plea bargain. The authorities even manage to prevail upon the one, true, squeaky clean "lieutenant" whose character is beyond reproach.
Nine times out of ten, we can predict how this movie will end. The bad guy gets caught and the just-as-guilty-but-gullible are vindicated.
This isn't a movie.
The tenth scenario has it playing out in a TV courtroom with two savvy lawyers and a jury of his peers. The defense would instruct the jury to ponder the evidence (or lack thereof) and adhere to the principle of reasonable doubt. If that reasonable doubt is the credibility of the witnesses and their own immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against the defendant - which it most certainly is in this "investigation" - the defense has a strong case for not guilty.
If the arbitration panel disregards these basic tenets of American justice and renders a verdict based on hearsay without any physical evidence, the entire process is inherently unfair and the findings suspect.
One might argue that a professional athlete waives his US Constitutional Rights when he enters into a contract with an International agency like the UCI (cycling's governing body). The athlete must accept the terms and conditions laid out by the UCI and respect the role of agencies like USADA and WADA to enforce the contract. Lance additionally argues that the USADA is NOT the enforcer of his contract with the UCI and certainly NOT an arbiter nor a judge like the CAS.
Again, I have to agree with Lance.
The UCI has not brought charges against Armstrong. Lance has not failed a doping control mandated by the UCI. The WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) has not initiated an investigation nor sought to arbitrate any allegations against him.
What is motivating the USADA to prosecute this investigation into Lance Armstrong?
I will conclude with this not-so-rhetorical question.
I believe that the USADA and its CEO, Travis Tygart, have lost their way. We Americans rely on this "sanctioned" organization to drug test our athletes and certify to the world that each is entering a competition without the benefit of a performance enhancing substance. If their tests reveal an illicit substance, we expect their process to be fair to the athlete and the athlete's competition.
That's where the mandate should end. If the USADA follows the guidelines of the WADA and the procedures set forth by each sport's governing body, the process should begin and end with the results of a specific drug test. Prosecuting an athlete in the absence of a failed drug test years after a competition serves no useful purpose.
Personally, I'm skeptical of the agency's motives.
What purpose will it serve to force Lance to give back his Tour Titles and rewrite the history of the last era of US bicycle racing? Will the other nations that fielded competitive teams during this era do the same? Will the second place finishers be subjected to the same after-the-fact scrutiny of their alleged activities? Or do we just pretend that only the US riders were guilty of cheating?
There is no positive message to come out of this investigation despite Tygart's statement to the contrary. It may serve as a warning to amateur athletes vying for a position on a US Olympic team, but it won't affect the determination of riders competing at the pro level. Each will continue to do what is required and condoned within that realm of International competition.
If Tygart has his way, US professional bicycle racing will be forever tainted. Worse still, the US public will form a negative opinion not only of bicycle racing, but bicycling in general.
The last thing cyclists need is more people who have no respect for bicyclists.
As individuals who choose bicycles for transportation, we have to fight each day for our right to share the road. As cycling advocates, we continue to battle the "cars only" mentality when it comes to funding our transportation infrastructure. Our nation is facing a health epidemic and a pending energy crisis. Bicycles can help solve both, but not if they are continually demonized.
We need to defend bicycling. Bicycling belongs to all of us. It is bigger than each of us.
While we can't click on a link and tell the USADA to consider the impact their witch hunt will have on bicycling, we can clarify the controversy to non-cyclists. It's not about the bike - it's about alleged cheating in a bike race.
Keep riding and be safe!
UPDATE: 2:00pm CST from Cycling News:
"Attorneys drop request for restraining order, aim to continue federal suit
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has granted Lance Armstrong a 30-day extension to decide whether he will accept the lifetime ban proposed for alleged doping and conspiracy charges or fight the case in an arbitration hearing, USADA has confirmed. The move allows time for a Texas judge to consider a federal lawsuit against USADA filed by Armstrong's attorneys."
Read full article here.
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