Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lance Armstrong and the USADA Allegations

To be clear, I am not one hundred percent sure whether Lance Armstrong raced to his TdF victories clean or not.  There are very few people in the world who definitively know the truth behind that question.  But I do believe that the case against him is a ship that has already sailed, and that USADA is appropriating US taxpayer dollars to carry out a vendetta and a witch hunt.

Dan Empfield from Slowtwitch wrote an excellent article sharing his thoughts on the investigation and the latest actions towards Armstrong here.  One of the most telling things he had to say, I'll paste here;

"Still, I think the onus is on USADA to lay out the case. I’d like to express here some things that bother me. Travis Tygart, who is USADA’s front man and someone who we’ve interviewed here, is a lawyer by trade. Therefore, he knows the difference between evidence and rumor. According to today’s Post article referenced above, the 15-page letter sent to Armstrong by USADA informing him of his ban contains the allegation by “Martial Saugy, the director of an anti-doping lab in Switzerland, [who] stated that Armstrong’s urine sample results from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland indicated EPO use.” But the Post article further recounts an interview it conducted with Saugy last year, in which Saugy stated that the sample was merely “suspicious," and that “We did not do the additional analysis. It will never be sufficient to say, in fact, it was positive… I will never go in front of a court with that type of thing.” 

Three or four urban myths and phantom rumors does not equal one piece of admissible, actionable evidence. Tygart knows this or, if he’s forgotten, he needs to go back and audit that course in law school. In fact, I did not read anything in the Post article that constitutes evidence. The Post article references blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.” I’m left with this question: Were these samples found, by a WADA accredited lab, to be an adverse finding? Or, were these samples indicative of a bio passport anomaly? If so, that’s righteous evidence. But, this is 2012. Why are we hearing this now, rather than back when the violation took place?"

Like Dan said, the onus is certainly on USADA to make their case, and therein lies part of the problem.  USADA annual budget is approximately $13 million per a year, much of that coming through the US Government in the form of a grant.  Though USADA believes its pursuit of Lance Armstrong is an effective use of taxpayer dollars, I just can't reconcile how retroactively stripping an American icon and seven time Tour winner of his titles will help clean up a sport that has already committed itself towards getting ahead of the use of banned or illicit substances.

Edit: Information about USADA funding and budget can be found on this press kit available on their website.

The Department of Justice spent two years and untold millions of dollars preparing their case against Armstrong, and now USADA would like to take up the torch and pursue Armstrong.  With their thin budget its hard to believe that they aren't inadvertently choosing to turn a blind eye to controlled substance use in a number of other amateur and professional sports.  Moreover, that appropriation of resources is to carry out what seems to be a spiteful and personal vendetta against an individual who was for many years the most tested athlete in the world.

There are some very legitimate questions around the strength of USADA's adjudication and review process, that should be understood by anyone who believes it is an agency whose methods are beyond reproach.  For one , the board does not assess the quality of the evidence; it merely muses over whether there is enough evidence to merit an adjudication process. In other words, this being a “non-analytical” case, they aren’t looking for a smoking gun, but rather a place in the sky in which smoke might reasonably be visible. (The samples in question for 2010 have not tested positive, but show “inconsistencies”. There is precedent for suspension and prosecution for non-analytical case: none other than Marion Jones, who presumably ran out of money to keep paying her law bills, and caved. No chance of that happening with Lance.) USADA will rely on outside testimony on Armstrong’s alleged improper conduct going back more than a decade to buttress whatever the lab results from 2010 might show.

What’s more, the Board is only assessing written submissions, all of which will have the names of the submitters redacted. When Armstrong calls the review board process a “witch hunt”, he is making a specific historical illusion: nameless shadows coming forth to denounce a member of the community without showing their faces.  Presumably, some of these individuals would include Floyd Landis, and Tyler Hamilton, among others.  But if the testimony and allegations of these individuals are so strong, why remove your name from the submission?  I know that Lance Armstrong has a reputation for taking swift and decisive action against those who have spoken (or raced) against him, but fear of reproach from a man you seek to indite just doesn't do it for me.

I've said this before and I'll say it again.  If Lance was doping, he was doping and beat a field of athletes who were doping.  If he was clean, he was clean and beat a field of athletes who were doping.  Either he spent nearly a decade doping and cheating and never got caught, and never told the wrong person or failed the wrong (or right) test, or he spent nearly a decade beating a field of athletes who ultimately were the rightful subjects of reproach in international sport.

Its not hard to find either alternative unbelievable.  I believe in innocence until proven guilty so unless USADA has some previously unheard, irrefutable evidence that proves beyond the shadow of doubt that Lance used banned substances, I believe they should let their case rest.

Six weeks ahead of the 2012 Olympics, ensuring the integrity of amateur and professional athletes in sport today is far more crucial towards maintaining fairness, equality, and excellence than pursuing an individual who has done so much for cycling, sport, and the world through the Livestrong Foundation.

Its time to move beyond these allegations, and look forward to the future of sport.  Its time that cycling teams followed the example and standards set by teams such as Garmin Slipstream, which through Ryder Hesjedal's recent Giro win demonstrated that there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to winning titles.

Ultimately, the clouds and uncertainty surrounding Lance are an accurate metaphor for the history and nature of professional cycling going back decades.  I believe we should continue to respect the successes and history of the sport and the achievements of its athletes, while learning from where it has fallen short.  But today the focus should be on guaranteeing the future of integrity and fair competition in sport while celebrating the achievements of today's athletes.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you...I think that there is something else that the USADA needs other than to better the sport..but who knows it is the true mystery.
    All I can say is this better not turn out to be a another Berry Bonds witch hunt. What exactly did all the time and money spent going after him do for base ball??