Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Contador; Scapegoat or Villain?

Saxobank remains team sponsor in spite of Contador verdict © Pasquale Stalteri   

Contador; Scapegoat or Villain?
by Pasquale Stalteri

The Contador verdict is bizarre enough on a number of fronts, including the time it took (565 days) to render a judgement etc…  But what may be the most troubling aspect of all is that Contador, arguably the world's best cyclist has received the maximum penalty due to detected traces of none other than Clembuterol.

Clembuterol which is being touted as an anabolic agent is clearly not. It is simply a decongestant / bronchodilator which is not much more powerful than a strong espresso. Let's put it this way, the Tour de France was never decided based on the use or non use of Clembuterol. There are much more potent drugs such as anabolic steroids and EPO (erythropoietin) that take those honours.

What's strange is how on one hand, cheaters commonly beat the drug tests with relative ease, yet on the other hand, positive drug tests are trusted implicitly once someone does test positive, regardless of whether the detected amounts add up to a real performance boost or not. 

The problem with relying solely on test data and taking it literally is the fact that even the most sophisticated drug tests are routinely only capable of detecting masking agents rather than the actual performance enhancing drugs themselves. So what does this really say about present day drug testing technology?

During the 2010 Tour de France, Alexandr Kolobnev of Russia was suspended after testing positive for a masking agent. No traces of any performance enhancing substances were ever found. Presumably the rest of the field was racing clean or is it more likely that no one else got caught?
Passing drug tests often means that athletes are simply using newer masking agents and or procedures which authorities have yet identified rather than proof positive of a clean performance.

Which brings to mind the confessions of many athletes who after being caught cheating, have openly admitted to passing numerous doping control tests throughout their careers. The fact that these athletes were not always particularly dominant also leads me to think that they were not alone.

So in the case of Contador, where a drug test shows mere traces of a banned substance that even at exaggerated dosages could not create any substantial differential, is it fair to strip major titles and apply the maximum penalties while naively looking the other way?

Isn't this a bit like handing down a 20 year jail sentence for a parking violation in the name of solving crime? Something just doesn't make sense here.

And didn't Contador pass every other drug test while still racing and awaiting the final verdict? So why are those titles being stripped as well? And what guarantee is there that those athletes moving up the standings due to his dismissal were actually clean? Due to the inaccuracy of present day drug testing technology, there is no guarantee at all.

Unfortunately we live in an era where all pro sports are tainted by the use of performance enhancing drugs yet we lack the technology for reliable and accurate detection. At the same time, sport governing bodies are under intense pressure to show that they are being proactive in finding solutions.

But pinpointing individuals and applying harsh penalties in order to create the public perception of cleanliness while diverting attention from the harsh reality may eventually have consequences of its own as the real issues behind the scenes are left unresolved and continue to further escalate and evolve.

Pasquale Stalteri


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