Anti-Doping Authorities Don’t Play Fair Against Athletes
With the whole world atwitter over Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong’s decision to drop his legal fight against anti-doping allegations, it’s the right moment to be appalled at the travesty in sports this case represents.
It’s not that the case will be seen as a major victory for sports anti-doping authorities. It’s that the anti-doping system claiming its highest-profile quarry ever is the most thoroughly one-sided and dishonest legal regime anywhere in the world this side of Beijing.
It’s a system deliberately designed to place almost insurmountable hurdles in the way of athletes defending themselves or appealing adverse findings. Evidence has emerged over the years that laboratories certified by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, have been incompetent at analyzing athletes’ samples or fabricated results when they didn’t get the numbers they were hoping to see.
Athletes’ defense attorneys harbored some hope that by picking a fight with Lance Armstrong, the anti-doping system might have sowed the seeds for its own reform. Finally, it was thought, here was an athlete with the money and motivation to expose the legal sophistry, the pseudoscience, the sheer sloppiness that underlies sports anti-doping prosecutions all over the world.
Instead, the outcome shows that the system is so relentlessly rigged that even Lance Armstrong doesn’t see a point in fighting it.
“We’re talking about three, four, five years of litigation,” says Mark Levinstein, a veteran sports lawyer and a member of Armstrong’s legal team. “Who in his right mind would or could go through that?”
Before we go further, let’s address the question most people think is the nub of the matter. Is Lance Armstrong a doper?
Here’s the answer: I don’t know. You don’t know either. More to the point, Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, doesn’t know. That hasn’t kept USADA from declaring Armstrong to be guilty of charges it has not proved in public, or to attempt to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles. (It’s not yet clear that USADA has the latter authority.)