Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Lance Laughs Last?
It happened a couple of days ago. Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that Lance Armstrong has refused to participate in the USADA's arbitration process. They subsequently stripped him of his seven Tour de France victories and other results and subjected him to a lifetime competition ban.
There have been numerous commentaries stating that this step back away from the arbitration process was Armstrong's best and only recourse to maintain what is left of his reputation. He did not want the charges and the evidence against him to be brought into the public domain and scrutinised. This way he can still parrot his favourite 'Never tested positive' line 'til he's blue in the face, while watching the LiveStrong dollars stack up as his loyal fans reach into their wallets to express their support for him via his foundation.
The arbitration process he declined to participate in involved the USADA progressing their case to (crucially) their arbitrator and presenting the evidence to Armstrong in a face-to-face (crucially) public setting. The reaction to Armstrong's refusal to fight the charges has been seen as his desire to avoid the public airing of the gamut of evidence against him.
But what if that's not how it is at all? What if, instead of trying to dodge the evidence, Armstrong is actually engineering a situation he feels more in control of where it all comes out - every last drop, in the manner and to the audience of his choosing. Rather than dodging the fight altogether, he's merely attempting to change the weapons and the battlefield. In the world's most defiant example of passive-aggressive taking one's ball in (oh yes I did), Armstrong is creating a situation where he sets the UCI and the USADA to slug it out before the CAS, while he gets to put his feet up and watch what unfolds.
Warning: What follows is pure conjecture- conceived, like so many things, in the passenger seat of a Landrover Discovery on a drive to North Wales. As such, there are most likely mistakes. Probably huge ones. Apologies, as always, in advance. Most of all, I apologise if I am not expressing myself clearly and articulately.
So, the USADA has effectively sought to strike Armstrong from the record, nullifying his results from August 1998 and imposing a lifetime ban upon him. Theoretically, what has he left to lose? He's not going to confess. He's not going to play ball. My suggestion is that rather than sweeping as much of this under the carpet as possible and sloping off quietly, he is about to come up swinging. And by that, I of course mean getting other people to do his dirty work for him while he has no further part in this. Stick with me while I try to explain...
Armstrong's statement spoke of his belief that entering into the USADA arbitration process would deny him the option to 'Confront these [USADA] allegations in a fair setting'. Now, the sanctions imposed by the USADA have to be ratified or not by the UCI. If the UCI choose not to ratify the USADA's sanctions, the case will almost certainly go before the Court of Arbitration for Sport - and it is my suggestion that this could be exactly what he wants. Again with the sticking with me thing...
So why would the UCI choose not to ratify the decision of the USADA and the sanctions it has chosen to impose? Well, I think the question here is - Why would they ratify the decision? To play Devil's advocate for just a moment, the USADA is seemingly deciding whom it will pursue and who it will not, who will face sanction and who will not, and under what circumstances they are prepared to change their own rules. So who polices the policemen? Please let me be clear - I am not passing judgement upon the USADA, their process or their findings; merely stating that the role of judge, jury and executioner is not a happy one. If the UCI choose to accept the sanctions of the USADA they are handing over virtually all their power to an unregulated body, albeit one which has the support of the WADA. I propose that they have no desire to do this; however, not ratifying the sanctions of the USADA is by default positioning for Armstrong - thus the UCI (with their eye on their own reputations) is forced into doing his dirty work for him, while at the very least he gets to sit back and enjoy the show. And let's not forget, the UCI are in this up to their necks - heavily implicated in covering up positive tests for Armstrong and facing accusations of corruption in relation to cash donations made by him. Additionally, the UCI facilitated Armstrong's comeback from retirement version 1, despite him not having completed the mandatory testing period for the Biological Passport.
Judge Sparks, when confirming the USADA's jurisdiction to manage the anti-doping case with relation to Armstrong, said: "There are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with the UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him.'', demonstrating that the UCI, for whatever reason has no desire to pursue Armstrong (and therefore no desire to ratify the USADA sanctions?).
So then, let's make the assumption that Armstrong by deciding not to proceed with the USADA arbitration process is actively trying to engineer a situation where the CAS gets involved. What's in this for him? My understanding is that the CAS is a completely separate body from any already mentioned, and it is here I believe Armstrong plays his masterstroke - the introduction of this separate body overseeing the arbitration process engineers a subtle but utterly crucial shift on the part of the USADA from attack (of Armstrong) to defence (of it's processes, findings, methods and decisions). The CAS will more than likely subject both the USADA and the UCI to some fairly harsh and uncomfortable scrutiny - would anyone emerge unscathed from this process?
Another question that I can't find a straight up answer to is this: What (if anything) changes if the CAS are brought in to the equation? The evidence against Armstrong is held in witness statements - although his stored 'B' samples may be re-tested, they don't have 'B' samples of their own (C samples if you like), and are thus inadmissible. He is never going to 'test positive' in such a way as to be inarguable proof of doping. So then, what, if any, implication does the introduction of the CAS have potentially upon the witnesses? Could it change the game to the extent that some even choose to pull their statements when faced with the CAS rather than the USADA arbitration panel? Would the supposed 'deals' reached between witnesses and the USADA in return for their testimonies be upheld by the CAS? Can they be upheld by the CAS? Or, once presented to the CAS could the UCI even be intent on progressing against the witnesses themselves in order that the decisions of the USADA are overturned with relation to their past doping admissions and full sanctions are imposed? This is pure conjecture, which surmises that the UCI or the CAS would want to pursue the witnesses - it may of course not for any of a number of reasons. But I can't find anyone else asking these questions or providing any information either way.
The point I am trying so clumsily to make is to ask whether shifting the arbitration process from the USADA to the 'neutral ground' of the CAS may have significant implications, not only for the bodies involved, but also for the witnesses themselves. And whether, by refusing to participate in the USADA arbitration process, Armstrong has in fact not stepped back from a fight, but instead engineered this situation; a very different sort of fight.
Someone far brighter and better informed than me might have a completely different take on the scenario outlined here, or be able to explain how this might work or otherwise. I am struggling to find answers to any of the questions I have posed. There may be zero implication on anyone should the CAS become involved in the process, or indeed quite the reverse to what I am suggesting, the USADA may relish the notion.
But - big if - if I am right, and introducing the CAS into the equation changes the game even slightly, then while things as they stand are unlikely to get any worse for Armstrong, they could be about to get a hell of a lot worse for everyone else. And if this is the case, then this isn't over. It's only just begun.
For interest, the CAS procedures can be found at http://www.tas-cas.org/d2wfiles/document/4962/5048/0/Code20201220_en_2001.01.pdf . Note - CAS hearings are not undertaken in public, except for the agreement of both parties.
In the light of how emotive an issue the Lance Armstrong doping case is, and how strong people's feelings are on both sides, I would like you to understand that this blog 'article' (for want of a better word) came from a train of thought and a subsequent discussion myself and the cyclist had in the car one afternoon, about how there could be more than meets the eye to Armstrong's apparent position U-turn. I am trying to ask questions about where this goes next and whether there are implications attached to that.