Are athletes receiving fair treatment at the hands of anti-doping agencies?

Gambling is the raging subject in the tennis world today and steroids are on the back burner. I’ll get back to gambling soon enough but in light of the recent decision in the Floyd Landis case, I want to look at the process of handing out drug suspensions to athletes.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is currently 35-0 in cases brought against athletes suspected of using banned substances. In other words they’ve haven’t lost a case yet. If the athlete never wins, is the process fair?

One way to answer the question is to compare an illegal drug case in a court of law to a case brought by an anti-doping agency against an athlete. Since the USADA is based in the U.S., I’m going to use the U.S. judicial system for my example.

Let’s say a police officer finds you holding a bag of cocaine before you can flush it down the toilet or, heaven forbid, swallow it. The police officer arrests you but he trips over his drug-sniffing dog and sprains his ankle then forgets to give you the Miranda warning (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”)

When you get to court, the judge throws the case out because the police officer forgot to read you your rights. Now let’s look at the Landis case.

Landis tested positive for an abnormally high testosterone to epitestosterone ratio after stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Landis had given urine samples in previous stages of the Tour but the samples hadn’t tested positive for any banned substances. After Landis’ positive test, the USADA went back to those previous samples and ran more sophisticated tests which showed the presence of synthetic testosterone.

Three weeks ago, the USADA ruled against Landis and stripped him of his Tour de France title. In the decision, the USADA threw out the results of the initial positive test because the test wasn’t done correctly but accepted the second set of tests for synthetic testosterone.

Was Landis guilty of using performance enhancing drugs when he won the Tour de France? Yes, he probably was but so was the guy with the bag of cocaine. If correct procedures were not followed, the case would have been thrown out in a U.S. court of law.

Let’s look at another case involving Argentinean tennis player Guillermo Canas and the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which is based in Switzerland.

Canas tested positive for the diuretic Rofucal in February 2005. The Association for Tennis Professionals (ATP) suspended him for two years. Canas appealed the decision to the CAS. At the CAS hearing, Canas presented witnesses to show that he had been mistakenly given a prescription that was meant for a tennis coach who’d been at the same tournament.

The CAS believed Canas’ witnesses but didn’t give Canas the maximum reduction in his suspension because he didn’t present those same witnesses at his initial hearing with the ATP. Think about that. Let’s say you were convicted of a crime but you later found evidence that exonerated you. I can’t imagine an Argentinean or Swiss court sending you back to jail because you didn’t come up with the evidence soon enough.

I’m still suspicious of Canas’ evidence and I wonder why he didn’t come up with it earlier too, but he should have gotten the maximum reduction if the CAS believed him.

Anti-doping agencies can’t possibly satisfy the laws of every country represented by the athletes it passes judgment on, but the process is currently weighed in favor of the anti-doping agencies. If an athlete’s career can be taken away, that balance needs to be adjusted to give the athlete a fairer decision.


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